Monday, 28 June 2010


Tempted as I am this isn't an analysis of a failed formation. The tale of my Sunday morning birding however fits neatly into those numbers and was far more enjoyable than the shambles of late afternoon.
We're at the end of June and the first of the waders are beginning to filter back, failed breeders, early breeders will start to appear on muddy edged pools, tidelines and seashore wader roosts near you.
So my first port of call was Castle Island looking for mud. The island looks perfect for return passage with a spit having appeared creating a lagoon around the northern bay. There were three Common Sandpiper and a single Black-tailed Godwit patrolling the muddy edges but best of all four 1st-summer Little Gull. Now I'm partial to a good gull and Little Gull is just such a perky, pretty thing that never fails to raise a smile. A couple had full-ish black heads and at least one, an almost clean white adult-like tail.

Little Gull

Whilst standing admiring the mini gulls the familiar buzzy three note call of a Willow Tit came from the Hawthorn to my left and a minute or so later it zipped across the gap in front of me, providing a self-found year tick. Further upriver a Lesser Whitethroat
was singing from a mixed stand of Hawthorn & Elderberry.

Low tide isn't ideal at Newbiggin and waders were in short supply but four Mediterranean Gull were pleasant enough, a couple of 1st-summer and 2 2nd-summer including a colour ringed bird.

Mediterranean Gull (1st-summer)

Later as middle son had a party at Amble I took the opportunity to go and spend an hour at Hauxley, hoping for a Roseate Tern dropping in. It didn't look promising when the only tern on site was a Common Tern that had obviously been excommunicated as it was trying to walk the plank.
Common Tern

Bonus time and self-found year tick two however, came in the form of a Curlew Sandpiper between the islands. There was a fair amount of heat haze and I presume it was a non-breeding adult as it seems a little early for a juvenile. A quick check with the Iphone revealed Birdguides showing only one report since 20 June and that was on Orkney!

Slightly shocking today was the news that the visitor centre at Hauxley caught fire during the night and burnt down completely. They appear to have lost many valuable records in the blaze. At the moment the cause of the blaze which started in the office is unknown.

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Stirring Up A Nest

I read yesterday that the BTO are currently drawing up plans for a new nest finding book to be co-authored by James Ferguson Lees who co-authored the original 'A Field Guide to Bird's Nests'. The book is apparently to be aimed specifically at those engaged in the BTO Nest Record Scheme and presumably (presumption by me) to encourage others to get involved.
The plan is already proving controversial with views split down the middle reagrding whether this is actually a good idea or whether it is madness.
The BTO will know doubt be aware of that the plan would provoke an outcry in some quarters and have a short survey at where birders, ringers, stringers and nest recorders can respond to a few questions about the project.
Feel free to comment here too.

Moth Haul 24 June

A delightful haul containing a good mix of species with at least six new species for the garden. I ran out of pots this morning, I've been using the glass jars from an old disused herb rack and the mixed herbs and black peppercorns went the journey today as I furiously washed them out to provide extra accomodation. My twins are getting in on the act, I'm now potting in the downstairs loo to restrict flyaways and they are acting as runners to the front door to release the stuff I can ID straight away and don't need to photograph. So the scores on the doors were

0017 Common Swift 1

0247 Tinea trinotella 1 (tbc) - new
1293 Garden Grass Veneer 1 (tbc) - new
1334 Scoparia ambigualis 4
1713 Riband Wave 1
1727 Silver-ground Carpet 5
1887 Clouded Border 1- new
1961 Light Emerald 1- new
2008 Coxcomb Prominent 1- new
2326 Clouded-bordered Brindle 1
2340 Middle-barred Minor 1
2477 Snout 1 - new
1201 Eucosma cana 1 - new
2158 Pale-shouldered Brocade 1
A worn minor agg 1

22 moths, 15 species

The Riband Wave through me a little as it was a totally different colour form to the one earlier in the week, if it was a bird it would be split.

Tinea Trinotella (?)

Garden Grass Veneer (?)

Riband Wave (different colour form)

Clouded Border

Light Emerald

Coxcomb Prominent

worn Minor agg

Eucosma cana

With thanks to Tom Tams for providing three ID's

Friday, 25 June 2010

Moth Catch Up

One or two extras from the past three days that either I've been working on to ID or have posted on the NE Moth Forum in the case of the micros.

20 June
1758 Barred Straw

Hedya pruniana - (thanks to TB)

22 June

1083 Marbled Orchard Tortix (?)

2340 Middle-barred Minor (?)

Blastobasis lacticollela

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Staple Fare

Today was an odd day, something a little different. As I may have mentioned previously the local RSPB group kindly put a local artist in touch with me who is involved in a developing national arts project recording bird song and turning it into music. They don't have funding as yet so I have been helping them on an expenses only basis in identifying what they are recording and sorting out locations for them to test etc. Expenses today ran to a boat ticket and a bag of chips as we 'did the Farnes'.
We spent an hour in the morning on Staple Island and I managed to spend a few minutes capturing the locals, first time I've been out there with a camera. I found myself amused by the sight and sounds of the fresh faced young wardens explaining Puffin ecology to middle aged women who were looking like they just want to cook them a good meal.

I'm sure the near boat-full of female French sixth form students that we arrived with provided ample compensation judging by the grins on one or two faces. Nothing out of the ordinary on Staple today, Rock Pipit was the only passerine.

We made a few stops on the way back to record Willow Warbler, Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting and Sedge Warbler and Barbara seemed to go home happy. Hopefully the project will get funding and some work might arise from today's efforts. There's worse ways to spend a day though.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010

Moth Haul 21 June

Two new macros to add to the growing garden list, thankfully both were easily identified as I recorded them last year prior to trapping. (Edit: Or at least that's what I thought until the comments! turns out what I thought was Hebrew Character was in fact a Double Square Spot masquerading as one to catch out the newcomer)

1334 Scoparia ambiguis 2
1727 Silver-ground Carpet 3
2060 White Ermine 1
2107 Large Yellow Underwing 1 - new for year
2128 Double Square Spot 1 - new
2492 Small Fan Foot 1

nine moths six species & one mistake

Double Square Spot

Large Yellow Underwing

Tuesday, 22 June 2010

Something Will Tern Up!

After 'doing' moth id's for more time than is healthy last night I was about to head for the land of nod when the big red phone on the desk rang. A little like the one in the commissioner's office in Gotham City a call at this time of night always means something's up.
Sure enough one of the team with a courtesy call, someone had just put in a report of a Bridled Tern at East Chevington.
The ususal process of requesting more details and any images etc had been actioned so any news that night was to be unconfirmed and to be honest after contacting one of the East Chevington regulars to do a morning recce, I slept soundly and fully expected it to morph into something else, a 1st-summer Arctic Tern or at best maybe a White-winged Black Tern.
Perhaps I should have expected the unexpected this morning when the phone rang again with news that resulted in a gobful of Weetabix liberally spluttered across the kitchen. Three images had been received at Birdguides and yesterday's '1st-summer Arctic Tern' was as had been reported a nailed on and exquisite Bridled Tern.
Almost 18 years since the last one, a single day tripper to Coquet Island on 14th August 1992 for a few long in the tooth locals Bridled Tern is the blocker on their county list. Despite a further unconfirmed report today, originating from a chance conversation on a boat to the Farnes, of a bird fitting the description of Bridled Tern 'on a sandbar in Budle Bay' no further news.
On a personal note, I told the kids it was a needle in a haystack job but they insisted on playing their part in trying to relocate the Tern this afternoon. So after calculating the likely trajectory of any terns moving from Coquet to East Chev we placed ourselves at the likely spot and carried out an intense search, covering all possible flight lines (including below our knees in my daughter's case!).

Monday, 21 June 2010

Moth Haul 20 June

A good night for me with four new macros for the garden and a a couple of micros still to ID. I struggled with ID on a couple of these so thanks are due to SS for a little help.

Ghost Moth 1
White Ermine 1
Silver Ground Carpet 3
Small Angle Shades 1 - new for garden
Small Fan Foot 1 - new for garden
Clouded-bordered Brindle 1 - new for garden
Pale-shouldered Brocade 1 -new for garden
two micros still to do.

Small Angle Shades

Pale-shouldered Brocade

Clouded-bordered Brindle

Small Fan Foot (mid-escape attempt)

Sunday, 20 June 2010

A Rolling Stone Gathers No Moss

Prior to my seawatch on Friday despite being shattered I headed over to one of my regular haunts to look for butterflies and day-flying moths. Despite getting more and more overgrown through lack of grazing I like it as you don't have too many people walking the dog. There used to be wild horses, or rather horses grazing untethered, but they have long gone. The grass is waist high now and the strengthening wind made it sway on Friday.
With broken footbridges and electricity pylons as well as hidden ditches it has a kind of dangerous beauty, I've no doubt some folk would look at it and think 'this place is empty' but it isn't. Time is on my side on days like this so I walked all the way down to the end.

I was hoping I would find some Common Blue on the wing as I wasn't happy last year with the images I took and they are amazing, how blue can you get? My luck was in but you gotta move quick with these babies, they tend to stay low down in the wind and sometimes just can't be seen.

Eventually after I got the blues I moved on to try and find some moths, every now and again I'd catch sight of a small moth flowing through the grass glinting like brown sugar in the sunshine, at first I thought perhaps they were just my imagination as they seemed to become invisible. Eventually, after a long, long, while and not long before I ran out of time I caught up with one.

Not great shots but some satisfaction at least, so take it or leave it this is the best I got of Latticed Heath.

Nineteen in total if you've worked it out by the way!

Bonxie Bonanza

With winds running from the north and a bit of a swell on it was time for some seawatching over the weekend. Early evening Friday produced a burst of self-found year ticks with a single Great Skua north, a mid-distance 1st-summer Little Gull that couldn't make up its mind and went first north before drifting back south and (cough) Common Tern. I have seen Common Tern but at Whittle Dene and I knew they were there so it doesn't count as self-found and despite much checking of terns off Newbiggin I just hadn't connected with a dead cert.
Around seven I packed up to leave and the guy in the caravan behind the point stopped me and asked me if I'd seen anything interesting, just as I was about to open my mouth a dark phase Arctic Skua jogged over the point and away into the bay.
This morning various other committments meant an early start or no birding so by 06:25 I was back at Church Point. A quick look in the south bay produced 84 moulting Common Eider.
19 Manx Shearwater over two hours was a better return than Friday's seven and six Great Skua an improvement on the single. Two together and the one above close enough to have a pop with the camera. Joined by Tim Cleeves for the last hour conversation soon got in the way and a Red-throated Diver slipped by unseen by me, though 31 Common Scoter hung around a little longer.

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Thursday Night Moths (17/06)

Thursday was a good, warm still night and England were still likely to qualify for the next stage. A decent catch with at least three new macros and a micro new for the garden. All three of the new ones are common and widespread but good looking moths nonetheless but the White Ermine is a bit special and poses well for the camera hence the extra shots. Thanks to SS I now know that the White Ermine with the buffy ground colour is a female and the purer white individual a male.
Full catch was:

0017 Common Swift 1
0989 Timothy Tortrix 1
1713 Riband Wave 1 - new for garden
1727 Silver-ground Carpet 3
1759 Small Phoenix 1
1776 Green Carpet 1 - new for garden
2060 White Ermine 2 - new for garden
3 pugs and 1 micro still tbc.

White Ermine
Green Carpet

Riband Wave

Friday, 18 June 2010

Moths From Monday 14th

Slowly working my way through all the images and ID's, though some, particularly micros, need a little help from the more experienced.
Monday night saw a small catch:

Brown Rustic 1
Small Square Spot 1 - new for year

I've posted an image of the Brown Rustic below despite having also posted one 22nd May to highlight the difference wear makes to appearance. No doubt well known amongst Moth-ers but an perhaps of some interest to those that dont partake or are new like me.

Brown Rustic

Small Square Spot

Blastobasis lacticolella

Thursday, 17 June 2010

Summer Days Drifting Away but, (sigh), Those Suhummmer Shri-ikes

Tell me more, Tell me more I hear you cry. A splendid find off the beaten track above Buston Barns by John Rutter on Monday night was an adult male Red-backed Shrike. Coming as it did late afternoon I exited through the revolving door as my better half returned from work and was soon on the phone to SS on site with the dreaded news, no sign for thirty minutes.
Arriving to an empty road I feared the worst, a pleasant stroll down the country lane produced little until another local birder AG arrived suggesting last report had been from further up the road. We both moved on about 500m and parked up and began to search with little success. After a few minutes, with AG walking back toward me, the Shrike suddenly appeared moving low at speed across the adjacent fallow field allowing me the time honoured pantomime tradition of calling out "It's behind you!" (although given the tone of this post I may have been better turning up my collar, pointing and shouting "Greased Lightening").
Gradually working its way back down the hedge it settled after a while, regurgitating a pellet after about ten minutes before becoming active and hunting again. With little cover, close approach was impossible, any attempt by either of us to get photos moved it further on. With just AG and his wife present until ADMc arrived we all settled for good, if distant, views of a special summer bird once it had returned back to the hedge from wherever it disappeared to as we approached it. Smart bird.

The one I need (oh yes indeed)

Finder - John Rutter
Image - Alan Tilmouth
Title & Image caption courtesy of Grease The Musical.
Text Information Boulmer Birder (other information services are available but not always as reliable)

Sunday, 13 June 2010

New Moths

Last night was a good catch by my standards and three new moths for the garden to boot so I was well chuffed this morning though the conservatory resembled Butterfly World at one point.

0014 Ghost Moth 1 - new
1428 Bee Moth 1- new
1764 Common Marbled Carpet 1 - new
1906 Brimstone 5
1727 Silver Ground Carpet 5
and a couple of Pugs still to do.

Ghost Moth Hepialus humuli

Bee Moth Aphonia sociella

Common Marbled Carpet

Old Moths

From last Sunday I had a couple that had been photographed but not posted. Another Common Swift trapped by my son in the bathroom and two great moths, Small Magpie new for the year but always lovely to see and a new one for the garden Chinese Character that had me searching for hours through micros before realising it wasn't a micro after all.

0017 Common Swift Hepialus lupulinus

1376 Small Magpie Eurrhypara hortulata

1651 Chinese Character Cilix glaucata

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Eagle Owls, Harriers & PR

I can't help but comment on the press release by Natural England and subsequent blog post by Mark Avery (Conservation Director) at RSPB regarding the CCTV recording of an Eagle Owl harassing a female Hen Harrier at a nest site in Bowland. Given that there is recently being a Risk Assessment running with Fera regarding Eagle Owls one has to wonder about the timing of the release of this statement.
The story is getting a great deal of mileage and press as well as lots of comments. I've no doubt the shooting press will also pick up on it and it will appear in their magazines and websites. The obvious fact is it's predation and if Hen Harrier numbers were at a reasonable number in England of say 2 or 300 pairs then an incident of this nature wouldn't matter too much.
I spent much of the early afternoon reading published information from the BOU on the status of Eagle Owl and from the World Owl Trust (I suggest you set aside an hour minimum to take these in). I've also read a lot of mis-information, opinion presented as fact and attempts at sensationalism from some observers that ought to know better.

I have reached some conclusions though.

1. It strikes me that with a minimum escape figure numbering tens of birds annually the authorities should focus on restricting any further imports and introducing controls that would see existing birds ringed or tagged. Beefed up licence conditions including appropriate handling and traing certification might reduce the number of accidental escapes.

2. Research into the existing breeding birds is urgently required to document the diet of breeding Eagle Owl in the UK and should be undertaken by an independant authority.

3. Given the improvements in satellite tracking technology and the wealth of information derived from the use of it with re-introductions it should not be beyond the bounds of possibility to start sat tracking young birds from some of the (alleged) 44 breeding pairs.

Interesting that despite reports of the demise of the Bowland Eagle Owls, one observer reported two sightings today, one of a bird carrying food in Bowland. Same pair or different birds, who knows? but the story on these birds is far from over.

Edit : Have just seen and read the distressing news that three chicks have starved after the parents deserted (reason unknown), full story and pictures here. If the allegation that the RSPB and Natural England were aware of this for 10 days and did nothing are true then they should hang their heads in shame.

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Marsh Warbler

Steve Holliday and Phil Allott found a singing male Marsh Warbler close to the entrance of Druridge Pools yesterday. After a gratefully received text I scurried up after lunch, with the kids in tow, to take a quick peek. It sang not long after I arrived, only briefly but enough to confirm itself as Marsh Warbler; the pitterpatter of raindrops seemed to keep it from opening up in full blown song thereafter. I did glimpse two Acros in the Phragmites through the gap between the bushes, one of which was Reed Warbler and the other could well have been its more vocally extrovert cousin as it did appear to have quite a nice white throat and didn't look so long billed but a face on glimpse with no look at the primaries for three seconds wasn't enough.

So with heavy eyes I dragged myself from my bed at an ungodly hour this morning and went back to check if it was still around and see if I couldn't get a better view. Again a few brief snatches of song on a poor, damp morning before after an hour it suddenly wound itself up and went nitro, banging out all sorts of notes from the alder and phragmites ahead of me. At least one Reed Warbler was still around too. I managed one decent view in an hour and a half but I'm not complaining, happy enough I managed to record some song and grab a couple of record shots.

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Things That Go Churrrr in the Night

After  a day with cold or hay fever I got itchy feet early evening and decided to have a crack at finding my own Nightjar. I had noticed a big area of newish plantation a few weeks ago on one trip into the south west of Northumberland that looked suitable and was in an area that has had Nightjar breeding historically but away from the well watched sites down there.

Arriving about nine to try and sort out a decent vantage it was cloudy with a light breeze. I found a small sparsely wooded hill between an area of growth about 8-10 years old and a clear fell area maybe 2-3 years old from where I could view both. I settled down to wait for dusk, only moving my left arm occasionally to fend off the incoming Midge that sounded like minature kamikaze fighter planes as they dived at my forehead. Suddenly a movement low down a few feet back along the path in my peripheral vision and two black and white heads pushed through the overhanging heather about six feet away; two young Badger eyed me cautiously before retreating and giving me a wider berth.

As dusk approached I moved away back to the clearfell area, a single repeated hoarse bark resounded through the trees. Not owls, not Fox, I was puzzled for a few minutes till a flash of white revealed a couple of male Roe Deer 40m away tussling with each other before trotting off.

A Woodcock lazily roded overhead and the first of several male Tawny Owl advertised their territory. Driving back down the single track lane later, two Tawny Owl rose from the low roadside vegetation perhaps 2m from the road edge highlighting their vulnerability to fast moving vehicles.

With darkness fast approaching I took my light and headed along the eastern edge of the site on a public footpath for about 500m. Briefly in the distance for perhaps 10-15 seconds I caught my target for the night churring in the distance. Several bats hawked low over my head but despite waiting until near darkness I heard or saw no further signs of Nightjar. I arrived home a little after midnight, slightly deflated as I'd hoped at least to get a brief glimpse. At least I know that the site does have Nightjar, another night perhaps.

Friday's Micros

With thanks to Tim Barker for the ID of these two, though I have awarded myself a point for at least getting the Scoparia down to family.

1334 Scoparia ambigualis

1176 Epiblema trimaculana