Friday, 30 July 2010

Captive Breeding of Waders

I blogged about an interesting report on Spoon-billed Sandpipers a few weeks back and at the time highlighted one of the most interesting aspects of the report was the suggestion that a captive breeding programme might form part of the strategy to save the species.

Further review highlighted that this had been moderately successful with sedentary species such as Shore Plover in New Zealand but I was delighted to read a story from WWT today highlighting the start of experiments with migratory species such as Ruff and Dunlin (shared by Gyorgy Szimuly in Hungary).

Fantastic to see  some real practical conservation being put into practice and you have to wish them every success.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Work over I headed for a short sea-watch, I may as well have not bothered, the most exciting action after an early flyby northbound Roseate Tern was a scruffy female-type Common Scoter with a broad orange centre to the upper mandible that momentarily raised hopes.

I resorted to some gull action on the beach at Newbiggin, With Med Gull numbers reaching dizzy heights (23 the best I've heard so far) and the first juvenile reported over the weekend there was sure to be lots of activity. I do like a juvenile Med Gull, I think they still carry novelty value up here in Northumberland where we have rarely had juveniles.

Sure enough two juveniles amongst 10 I counted tonight spread along the beach. Interesting to note that our arrivals fit in with some of the findings of studies using colour rings for example a study at Folkestone discovered the peak arrival time to be July 21st - August 15th. Given that my count was less than half the number counted over the weekend and included at least one new juvenile it set me wondering if some of the birds occurring at Newbiggin at the moment are 'staging' and will move on to winter elsewhere.

Time to get a brew, get on the slippers, break out the pipe and settle down for Podcast 2. Topics briefly covered include raptor persecution, the new government Natural Environment paper, dolphins and oil drilling in the Moray Firth and a request for sightings of Red-veined Darter as well as a fantastic recommended birding site.

Links mentioned in the Podcast

Jos Stratford
Mark Avery
John Armitage

Friday, 23 July 2010

Everything's Rosy

With seawatching poor this morning according to the early morning advance watch I headed for the beach instead to try and use the sunshine for some photography and perhaps eke out a Roseate Tern or two for the self-found list. As the tide turned I was watching a small group of terns on nearby rocks, a couple of young Sandwich Tern and one each of adult Arctic & Common. After about forty minutes another tern joined them and spent about ten minutes preening. Getting close with no cover is not really an option so I settled for good views through the scope, a record shot in the camera, wet toes and cramp.

A small selection of waders added  interest, mainly Sanderling on the turn plumage wise, with the odd ginger Dunlin lurking. A few Turnstone, Redshank and Ringed Plover along with c100 Golden Plover. Most of the waders dozed in the sun, perhaps taking it easy after a long journey.

I moved on to Newbiggin south beach and found 13 Mediterranean Gull this morning, interesting that there wasn't a juvenile amongst them. I went back after an hour's seawatch tonight, the gulls were all jammed at the north end of the beach as some sort of 'Ironman' type challenge was going on further along the beach. My white balance needs work!

A seawatch from Church Point produced little, another Roseate Tern flew south and 35 Manx Sheawater north, a lone Arctic Skua the only other bird of note.
Water levels have risen again on the Wansbeck after the rain so a couple of Common Sandpiper were the only waders down there. Elsewhere local ponds turned up two Greenshank and two Green Sandpiper this evening.
Next week sees the start of the kids holidays, so expect more 'beach' posts as the kids and I take advantage of (hopefully) good weather and get out and about.

Bye Bye Biscay

For many years the Portsmouth to Bilbao ferry has provided birders and cetacean watchers with a platform from which to connect with some great seabirds and amazing cetaceans in the Bay of Biscay. The service is being removed from September and this opportunity will cease to exist.
Thousands of birders have had their first experiences of Little Shearwater, Wilson's Storm-Petrel, Great & Cory's Shearwaters, Sabine's Gull, whilst being delighted by an impressive array of cetaceans including Fin Whale, Sperm Whale, Minke Whale, Risso's Dolphin, Cuvier's Beaked Whale etc.

A few of us from the North East are planning one last journey to celebrate the route. Combined with a day at the Birdfair and a day twitching as we head for Portsmouth. Four hours in Bilbao between ferries is a bonus that can add Griffon Vulture, Hoopoe, Booted Eagle, Zitting Cisticola, Serin, Red-backed Shrike to name but a few to the trip list.

We have one place in our car and cabin open to any erudite birders with a sense of humour and good personal hygiene. This can be from the North East or the Birdfair on Sunday. Price is c£90  £80 £70 plus split of petrol costs and entry cost to birdfair.

Rough Itinerary
Sunday 22nd August - travel to birdfair, full day at birdfair, travel on in evening to campsite or B&B.
Mon 23rd August - onward journey to Portsmouth via rare birds, dragonflies or butterflies depending on our fancy. Sail 21:15
Tues 24th - full day seawatching
Wed 25th - morning in Bilbao - afternoon seawatching
Thur 26th - full day seawatching - arrive back UK teatime and head north home (unless there is a mega on the way in which case it could be Friday!)

Please email me at if you're interested

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Cool grey skies were perfect for the long walks involved in completing my Atlas responsibilities today. With the wind from the north my chin felt like March rather than midsummer. With four timed tetrad visits planned I was expecting to do between 8-10km today probably the most I've done all summer, my hips would tell you it was more like 20km if they could talk tonight.

The first TTV turned up a juvenile Stonechat about 1km from where I had seen a pair in an adjacent square in May. That pair were still around when I covered the square later in the morning. The highlight of the 2nd square was a Cuckoo that came off the moor 10m ahead of me and flew across my path into nearby woodland. Common Buzzard and Kestrel were recorded in every square, often in the air together.

It was another raptor that provided the highlight of the day as I scanned around the trees surrounding Sweethope Lough a private fishing lake a white head turned some distance away on the western shore and I was lucky enough to have found the Osprey that has been reported intermittently this summer in the Sweethope/Colt Crag/Whittle Dene area. Far enough away for nothing more than a record shot it was still a delight to see and hopefully a sight that will become more and more regular as the Northumberland population increases.

It certainly offered a little compensation for the stream of emails I was getting involving  Balearic & Cory's Shearwaters from the coast some 25miles east.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010


With normal service resumed and my fair lady sent back to the coal face today some fresh air was in order.  A grey morning with a hint of drizzle and a comfortable 17c we headed for the beach arriving about a half hour before high tide. The sea was calm with a gentle roll allowing reasonable visibility although I had no scope and one eye on the kids ever increasing courage in the face of the waves.

It looked quiet until four Sanderling dropped onto the tideline nearby before departing on south moments later, then another two and further up the beach a single. None stayed long although that could possibly have been as a consequence of the whirling pink and yellow display from the plastic spades. Gradually as the morning wore on it was obvious that there were large numbers of common waders on the move south, Sanderling, Oystercatcher, Curlew, groups of Knot tight together, an occasional Turnstone. A steady stream of visible migration. Heading in the opposite direction were regular small groups of Common Scoter though one larger group of c150 headed through north mid-morning. A single Common Sandpiper dithered on the rocks at one end of the beach.

Later as we passed Cresswell we added two Black-tailed Godwit to the collection before a party of 11 took off from our final destination at Druridge Pool disturbed by an unseen presence. 20+ Curlew and a lone Whimbrel joined them as they wheeled away, the occasional bird calling prompting skyward glances from the kids.

Terns were the other constant of our few hours out, Sandwich Tern almost all tracking south a few metres offshore at the beach
and a few Common Tern lazing in front of the hide at Druridge including a few youngsters.

Monday, 19 July 2010

Let There Be Sound!

Did you miss me? You're in for a treat tonight. I've spent any spare time I've had fiddling about with recording software, MP3 conversion software, hosting software and given my main laptop a little spring clean. So whilst this will no doubt prompt the rapid drawing in of air between teeth in many a back bedroom here's a podcast. Yes now as well as reading some of the rubbish I write you are going to be able to kick back and listen to my smooth tones (who am I kidding) from the comfort of your favourite chair. Give it a whirl leave me a comment when you stop laughing, though I hasten to point out if it's funny it would be ironic as that as ever was the furthest thing from my mind.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Skimming & Shearing

Three separate sea-watching sessions today punctuated by a spell chasing dragons. A cooler day than of late with the wind swinging into the north east prompted a seawatch this morning but after 30 minutes I moved on with only six Manx Shearwater to show for the effort.
The wind increased as the day went on so I took the kids to the beach late afternoon and had a second session which was more productive with 55 Manx Shearwater north and a group of four Arctic Skua moving south together before dropping onto the sea. Two pale phase adults along with a dark individual and a 'browner' age undetermined beast.
With the tide high a flock of c100 Black-headed Gull fed in the breaking waves south of Cresswell Ices and a scan through them produced a 2nd-summer Mediterranean Gull and two Dunlin, an adult and a juvenile.
Another hour tonight further south saw 119 Manx Shearwater move north as well as 35 Common Scoter. Another Med Gull this time an adult passed overhead as I left.

After the abandoned morning session I called at a local pond to look for dragons and was pleased to find at least four male Black-tailed Skimmer each patrolling their own territory and occasionally engaging in aerial combat. At least one Common Darter was on the wing too.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Moth Haul 10 July

Things are getting better, it has only taken me two days to get to the point of posting despite an above average catch for me on Saturday. I do however have a couple outstanding from this batch that are faded and possibly not identifiable (at least by me).

0970 Barred Fruit Tree Tortrix 1 - new
1293 Garden Grass Veneer 1
1334 Scoparia ambigualis 7
1653 Buff Arches 1 - new
1727 Silver Ground-carpet 1
1758 Barred Straw 1
1776 Green Carpet 3
1922 Swallow-tailed Moth 2 - new
1962 Barred Red 1 - new
2050 Common Footman 1
2107 Large Yellow Underwing 1
2128 Double Square Spot 5
2198 Smoky Wainscot 2
2293 Marbled Beauty 2
2477 Snout 1

+ 4 unidentified and faded macros, one of which is a carpet and another may be Foxglove Pug. Comments welcome.

34 moths, 19 species

Barred Fruit Tree Tortrix
Swallow-tailed Moth
Barred Red

Three of the unidentified (click for larger image)

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Sublime Beauty

Sometimes you forget, mostly when the day to day grind of modern living is rubbing you the wrong way. Sometimes you stop looking for it and get caught up in the numbers of the recording processes, seemingly meaningless lists of numbers in small books that no one but you ever reads.

Sometimes the hurly burly of children and wife and family and work and school and events whirl around in your head like a sandstorm blocking out the light and chafing, scraping away in your head. Sometimes you seem to spend endless hours searching for it and not finding it, echoes of Bono mocking you as you seem never to find what you're looking for.

Sometimes there are moments that burn themselves into your memory, that evoke powerful reactions of a sense of belonging with the world around you. The wildness of the view ahead as we rise over the hill and The Cheviots lay ancient, unmoved and unchanged, ahead; the silence as the Barn Owl hangs, an arm length high, over my prostrate figure in the grass, bright shining white against the dark sky.

Sometimes I get reminded of just how far removed we are from the natural world around us and how little we, as individuals, know of it.
I caught a moth last night, one of the most beautiful creatures I've ever set eyes on. Six feet from my back door. Was it the first time it has ever visited my garden or is it a regular summer visitor? Have I missed the sublime beauty of this creature in everyone of the last 13 years I've lived here? Will I ever catch another?

Sometimes, just sometimes, something so incredibly stunning puts everything else into perspective.

Buff Arches - I'm in love.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Moth Haul 08 July

Strikes me that Gazza could do with a bit of moth trapping, might keep him out of mischief and help him avoid the wrong sort. His heart's in the right place and I've no doubt it would fill in a bit of time whilst waiting for the fish to bite. He could have started in Rothbury last night, whilst many people were glued to the 'breaking news' I found my attention wandering to the myriad of moth species that were flying through the screen as dusk fell. Sky News proved to be the best coverage of the moths though despite my best efforts I failed to ID a single species. Hey ho.

Thursday night provided some more newness in the trap with six new species amongst the 16 trapped.

1175 Bramble Shoot Moth 1 - new
1334 Scoparia ambigualis 3
1702 Small Fan-footed Wave 1 - new
1713 Riband Wave 2
1758 Barred Straw 1
1764 Common Marbled Carpet 1
1776 Green Carpet 1
1860 Green Pug 1 -new
1906 Brimstone 1
1941 Mottled Beauty 1
1981 Poplar Hawk-moth 1
2089 Heart & Dart 1 - new
2293 Marbled Beauty 2 - new
2474 Straw Dot 1 - new
2492 Small Fan-foot 3
one micro unidentified

22 moths, 16 species

1175 Bramble Shoot Moth
1702 Small Fan-footed Wave
1860 Green Pug
2089 Heart & Dart
2293 Marbled Beauty
2474 Straw Dot (mid-escape)
unidentified micro

Moth Haul 05 July

N-nn-nineteen in the catch on Monday as Paul Hardcastle would say. An ever changing cast brought two new macros and three new micros for the garden, if my ID's are correct. The full rundown as follows:

0937 Agapeta hamana 1 - new
1002 Lozotaeinia forsterana 1 - new
1293 Garden Grass Veneer - 2
1334 Scoparia ambigualis - 2
1503 Platyptilia ochrodactyla 1 - new
1738 Common Carpet -1
1765 Barred Straw - 5
2128 Double Square-Spot 1
2136 Gothic 1 - new
2198 Smoky Wainscot 2
2339 Tawny Marbled Minor 1 -new
2340 Middle-barred Minor 1

19 moths, 12 species

0937 Agapeta hamana
1002 Lozotaenia forsterana

1503 Platyptilia ochrodactyla

2136 Gothic

2339 Tawny Marbled Minor

This last one is interesting and possibly incorrect. It has been pointed out that the Marbled Minors are difficult to separate though this one seems to show the bronzy sheen referred to on some Tawny Marbled Minor so I'm hoping that this one might just be one of those that can be done without resorting to dissection, comments welcome.

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Consorting With Giants

I spent the morning in the company of one current and one former north east bird club chairmen and two formidable birders in the impressive surroundings of Saltholme RSPB. With a backdrop of calling Common Terns and a steady supply of hot tea and coffee, Tim Cleeves and I listened carefully to Ted Parker explaining how Teesmouth Bird Club was modernised and it's membership doubled over a period of five years.

Post meeting we strolled over to Bottom Tank where Assistant Warden and Glaucous-winged Gull finder Toby Collett had promised Tim and I that a Temminck's Stint was lined up. Unfortunately the stint had done a stint, got fed up with waiting for us and crept off into cover for an early afternoon spell of shuteye. We had to make do with 4 Little Ringed Plover, a couple of Avocet and a male Ruff.

We toyed with the idea of calling at Crimdon Dene to tick Beach Dotterel as insurance for any future split but time took it's toll and we headed home, enthused by Ted's passion for the subject matter discussed.

Monday, 5 July 2010

Moths 03 July

Saturday saw me wheel the trap out after a few days where I knew I wouldn't have the time. In terms of numbers a 05:30 recovery perhaps ensured that I kept more in the box than usual and as a result had a good night. ID's as usual have proved interesting and the jury is still out on one or two but I think it is important to keep trying to ID myself, familiarity is fundamental to learning. It would be no good posting stuff up without at least trying to pin them down as the process of searching reinforces the images much ore than simply posting them on a forum.
At the same time when I am coming up blank it's good to know that there are several helpful individuals out there willing to take a look, it is much appreciated.

0970 Pandemis cerasana (tbc)1 - new

0998 Light Brown Apple Moth (tbc) 1 - new
1293 Garden Grass Veneer 1
1334 Scoparia ambigualis 11
1376 Small Magpie 1
1428 Bee Moth 1
1727 Silver Ground Carpet 1
1758 Barred Straw 2
1764 Common Marbled Carpet 1
1765 Barred Yellow 1 - new
1776 Green Carpet 1
1941 Mottled Beauty 3
1981 Poplar Hawk Moth 1
2050 Common Footman 1 - new
2198 Smoky Wainscot 2 - new
2340 Middle-barred Minor 2
Minor 1 either 2337 Marbled Minor or 2339 Tawny Marbled Minor 1 - new
2477 Snout 1

Total 33 moths 18 species

Pandemis cerasana (?)
Light Brown Apple Moth (?)
Barred Yellow
Common Footman
Smoky Wainscot
Minor Marbled or Tawny Marbled (?)

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Moths 26 June

We were still in the World Cup when these were caught and the road outside was cobbled it were that long ago.

0989 Timothy Tortrix 1
1293 Garden Grass Veneer 1
1333 Scoparia pyrallela 1 new
1727 Silver-ground Carpet 3
1941 Mottled Beauty 1 - new
1955 Common White Wave 1
2061 Buff Ermine 1 - new
2387 Mottled Rustic 1 - new
2492 Small Fan-foot 1

11 moths, nine species

Buff Ermine

Mottled Beauty

Scoparia pyrallela

Mottled Rustic

Thanks to Tom Tams for at least one ID in this post and Stewart Sexton for another!

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Swift Birding

Blog posts have been scarce this week, various deadlines such as Birds in Northumbria 2009, more work on entries for Essential NewcastleGateshead and three Birdguides shifts have put paid to most of my free time.
I nipped out for an hour late afternoon, down to Castle Island, though for the second time in a week failed to catch up with any Green Sandpiper only Common Sandpiper present which is a little surprising as at this time of year they normally hang around a little...
Still some Little Gull present, bumped into Alan Hart who had seen an adult this afternoon, I couldn't find that either. Tons of Common Swift easily 150+, amazed that this many doesn't pull in a Hobby. Watching them is easy, getting any sort of decent image, needs better technique and more patience than I' had today.

A Greenshank calling as it flew over Woodhorn Flash on its way south was my bonus bird for the afternoon. Might even set the moth trap tonight.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

Bedtime Reading

First up some good local news about the existence of Pine Martens in Coquetdale, you can read the full story here.  Also reading today about Spoon-billed Sandpipers, this enigmatic wader would probably feature on most birders 'most like to see list', doubly so because it's critically endangered. Add to that the latest research that found in Myanmar (Burma for the older reader) they taste good too and it's all a bit of a nightmare. If this story interest you I would recomend the full paper from Christoph Zockler and others via the Wader Study Group available here as compelling reading. One point I found very interesting was the suggestion that a captive breeding programme is being considered, I wondered whether this has been tried with a wader species before, is there a precedent?

Spoon-billed Sandpiper - image courtesy & copyright Nkenji