Sunday, 31 October 2010

Rough Day

Out of county birding trips are at a premium in these days of high petrol prices but it isn't too often you get reports of four-five Rough-legged Buzzard at one location within striking distance from Northumberland. With Stewart  and birding talisman "Lucky" Andy on board we slipped towards the A1 as most of the north pulled up the quilt to take advantage of the extra hour. A Common Buzzard presumably having just left a roost crossed our path just before Clifton an early flier.

Some time later, with the in-car entertainment ranging from the importation of large numbers of Icelandic bird skulls to Australian Plains Wanderers, we slipped through the mist of Commondale down through the village and up the ridge that overlooks the Sleddale Burn.
A still morning found us surrounded by Red Grouse creeping out of every crack in the dry stone walls and doing fantastic Pheasant impersonations out in short-turfed sheep fields. Far from flying away from us they seemed to be flying to observe.
Red Grouse ridiculously confiding

As the low cloud lifted we quickly found first one, then a second Rough-legged Buzzard about 1km north of our vantage behind the farmhouse. A quick look at the map highlighted a public footpath that would cut the distance between us and the birds in half. The path swept around past the farm and we stopped at a new vantage about 200m across from the trees and extensive hillside rabbit warren the birds had been over. Over the next 1.5 hours we had Rough-legged Buzzard in view for about 70% of the time, at least two birds present in this part of the valley, alternating between tree and ground perches. At one point a Rough-legged Buzzard came in from behind us after what appeared to be a mid-air incident with a large Peregrine.

Stewart using the natural land features to his advantage, whilst 'lucky' Andy focuses on making his own luck.

Satisfied we moved back out to the south end of the valley about 1.5km south where 14 vehicles congregated watching a further two Rough-legged Buzzards performing at the other end of the valley, albeit a little more distantly. More Northumberland birders at this site that had yesterday also held a Great Grey Shrike, though sadly not today.

Relaxed unhurried views of these great birds on the ground and in flight showed all the features both plumage and jizz well despite the overcast and slightly misty conditions. A fantastic opportunity to get good prolonged views; if these birds remain it's a great opportunity to get to grips with them. Well worth the trip down.


The almost obligatory record shots.

Saturday, 30 October 2010

Whoop, Whoop, Boom!

I should have written this yesterday but it all went to shit, thanks to BT, and if the conspiracy theorists are to be believed, Take That. Work yesterday was a steady stream of Waxwing reports from all parts north with flocks in Aberdeen seemingly outnumbering people. Somewhere around mid-morning as my thoughts turned to replacing the inch deep grey tea that was gradually acquiring a skin and I looked for a gap in the reports of marauding, berry stripping, feathered locusts, I heard the distant whooping sounds. Nothing visible in the sky I padded downstairs to find them oddly coming from the kitchen, or more accurately my wife (34) in the kitchen.

Much too my disappointment her obvious vocal excitement was not because she had just glimpsed a Black-throated Blue Warbler in the garden but because she had after 90 minutes of failing to get through to Ticketmaster, given up and sent a friend around to the ticket office at Newcastle Arena, as a result bypassing the bottleneck and securing, no doubt overpriced, tickets for a bunch of has beens.

Post work after an abysmal 40 minutes looking at an empty sea, I headed up to Cresswell Pond for the final hour of light hoping to catch a glimpse of one of the Bitterns that have been teasing everyone with the occasional flypast for the past couple of weeks. A scan of the north end revealed a sprinkling of Dunlin in amongst the Wigeon and the first Common Snipe beginning to stir.

I relocated to the gate beside the burn and began to scan across the phragmites that were been flung about in the wind. Squinting across to the small bank of phragmites west of the hide I could discern a dark shape about halfway along in the upper half of the reeds. Out with the scope and the shape revealed itself as a Bittern clinging on to a stand of reeds about two feet above the water it's upward pointed bill almost level with the top of the swaying reed heads.

I walked into the hide and as a result the angle of view changed. I never saw the bird again. I entertained myself for a while picking cryptic Snipe out of the short stems on the rides in front of the hide, looking for a Jack. The light faded and the sky grey I heard it again, the whooping, at first distant, coming closer like an approaching band of Apache on horseback. Then out of the west, the large ghostly grey and white shapes of five Whooper Swans, swept low into the pool and skimmed across the surface. I stayed till dusk, as 58 more arrived in small family groups, out of the darkness, to roost. The juveniles were particularly difficult to see in the dying light, grey necks merging into one another in an almost ethereal otherworldly manner.
The occasional call, caught in the wind as I left in darkness, drifted out into the night; the call of the wild providing me company as I made my way back to the light.

Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Waxwing Lyrical

After a helpful early morning update from Stewart that the 40 strong Ashington flock of Waxwings were still around, ranging across a 1km mosaic of Rowan and Whitebeam lined streets, gardens and garage forecourts, I wrapped the kids up warm and headed out.
Some two hours later we arrived back home, slightly dejected that our quarry had managed to successfully elude us. We had ticked 3 towns, 2 garage forecourts, 72 Rowan and 112 Whitebeam. I had a blog post all written in my head about 'The Great Waxwing Con' and how the supermarkets were in league with birdguides, paying them to report hundreds of Waxwings at superstores across the country in a bid to drive footfall and try and restore flagging sales.
Lunch needed by my fellow hunters the blog post had to wait and another lunchtime phone call from Stewart that they were still around, as they had flown over him, but he wasn't sure where. Fed and watered we headed back into the fray and parked up near a couple of likely looking Rowan. Still nada and with the kids now sleeping soundly I headed back to the original garage forecourt that they had first been reported from yesterday. On a couple of flimsy looking Rowan to the east suddenly a shape whipped up, then another. I counted about 20, only seven moved into larger trees in the forecourt's landscaping the others continuing their rampage elsewhere. The seven left, offered a better opportunity for pics than the three from the weekend.

Tuesday, 26 October 2010


It clouded over, warmed up and dried off this afternoon. Too late to do anything serious so I squeezed the twins into the various garish assortment of wellies that linger in the car boot and headed around teh corner and off across the local fields. With Waxwings seemingly in every berry bush, except the ones I was looking at and any located in Leicester, I scanned the skies in between keeping the kids upright and accident free.
A female Blackcap fed on Elderberries not 5 metres from the garden and a single Redwing raised a creamy eyebrow at us as we passed. Scanning east I caught sight of a bird hawking for insects about 20m above the conifers on the old pit heap about 1km away. Except as it twisted and turned it became apparent it wasn't a bird but a Noctule bat taking advantage of the relative calm and warmth to stock up on a little food. First one I've seen hunting in daylight but I'm reliably informed by those that know that it isn't uncommon.
Hopefully tomorrow with sunshine forecast I might catch up with a few Waxwing and try to get some better images.

Sunday, 24 October 2010

More Reasons to Shop At....

Well it isn't going to be Waitrose is it, not in my current financial condition after the last few months of non-stop birthday/wedding/any old excuse family celebrations that have been taking a steady toll on the rainy day fund. If you want Waitrose quality posts you better go here. I will recommend their tear and share Brioche though, I seem to remember consuming a whole one on the way back from a trip south of Hexham a few years back.
To be honest I don't shop in Morrisons either but I don't expect you're here to read about my shopping habits.
After an early morning hour at Church Point that was seriously short of action, with what is increasingly beginning to feel like the cast of Last of the Summer Wine (Mclevy, Steele, Cleeves and Hepple), I headed home. My own personal haul amounting to a 3 second distant Little Auk that flung itself into a trough and never reappeared, two northbound Great Northern Diver and a slight niggle in my lower back.
With kids party duties, shopping and Sunday Lunch preparation duly dished out between the fair lady and I, my attention turned for an hour to the forthcoming NTBC Members Survey and a little form design.
Somewhere around three the Iphone pinged its hourly email alert to reveal that two, of what is increasingly looking like decent numbers this year, of Waxwing were a mile and a half down the hill in Morpeth in Morrisons car park, or at least they had been two hours earlier.
I bundled the kids in the car and headed down for a squint. Supermarket car parks get three species in my experience, Dunnocks, Waxwings and a long time ago, some brightly coloured Yank warbler that drew a small crowd.
As is their habit the three were more approachable than should be allowed. They steadfastly refused to be ruffled as I virtually sat under the tree and climbed nearby walls trying to get a vantage. The downside of their stick-ability was that from a photographic point of view the angles were poor, so not the most conventional of Waxwing portraits resulted.

Footnote: I would like to dedicate this post to one-time Newbiggin stalwart Stef Mcelwee who is apparently suffering a deep depression over missing out on the Red-flanked Bluetail patch tick. Stef is currently on a retreat in the Cairngorms taking some time to come to terms with his loss, my thoughts are with him.

Saturday, 23 October 2010

Southern Seabird Smorgasbord

First up tonight I came across some mouth-watering images from a French Caribbean photographer based in Wellington New Zealand, Karim Sahai, of shearwaters, petrels and albatrosses off the coast of Kaikoura, New Zealand. Too good not to share.
Continuing with the seabird theme it seems that a team out 100 miles west of Darwin, Australia may have discovered the first wintering records of Arabian Shearwater in Australian waters. For anyone interested in southern hemisphere seabirds there are a series of images and some discussion of identification criteria and confusion species in an interesting post on the Bird-O site. Though admittedly anyone claiming one of these off the East Coast might come under a little scrutiny.

Friday, 22 October 2010

Larking About

  I arranged to go out with ADMc this morning, without a destination in mind. A late evening browse of birds I'm missing or still to find for the self-found year list revealed that both Great Northern & Black-throated are absentees. As a result I suggested we headed up to Buston Links south of Alnmouth. All three divers are possible off the long sandy beach with the added benefit of a relatively unwatched bit of saltmarsh and phragmites lieing behind the dunes at the north end.
We decided to walk around the saltmarsh south of Church Hill first, before scoping the sea from the dunes. A few hundred metres in and five Twite fluttered up and dropped back down to feed a little way off. Then further north a small sandy coloured bird stood out on the edge of the saltmarsh, Shorelark we both said and moved a little closer to scope it.

The obligatory record images in the camera we took a look on a fairly calm and fairly empty bay, 6 Goldeneye off the breakers, 3 Red-throated Diver, dark silhouettes in the glare of the morning sun on the water. We headed back to the car with ADMc leaping down dunes in gazelle like fashion.
Amble Estuary was a bustling hive of activity with bathing Herring, Common & Black Headed Gulls, 20-30 Wigeon, Lapwing, Redshank, Oystercatcher & Dunlin. A single distant plover was eventually attributed to Golden Plover after we steadied the scopes from the wind behind the car.
Most of the non-diving wildfowl at East Chevington hugged the south west shore out of the wind, a single Pintail the pick of the crop. A pale shape through one of the phragmites rides seen by ADMc was probably a Water Rail.
The sea here produced several Red-throated Divers, two x two incoming Whooper Swans and I did my best to string a distant auk into a Slav Grebe.
We stopped by the roadside south of Stobswood to check the new pool created by the opencast infill. The large feral Canada Goose flock from Bothal/Warkworth Lane was here and had sucked in two Whooper Swan, another site worth the occasional check during the coming winter if the geese (several hundred) continue using it.

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

A Rough Winter?

Graham Catley has highlighted the excellent numbers of Rough-legged Buzzard that have passed through Falsterbo, Sweden  in recent days (1838 between 11th-16th October) and how it compares with the 2009 total of 185 for the whole autumn.
A quick look at the last three days on Birdguides highlights reports from seven eastern English counties from Cleveland to Essex, with perhaps 10-15 individuals involved. There could and should be more out there to find but as some will tell you finder beware they are possibly one of the most misidentified species and many reports do turn out to be simply pale juvenile Common Buzzards.

Can you tell I'm not getting out much? Toilet training twins is taking its toll, a snatched hour this afternoon saw me sifting through a flock of large gulls that were all Herring, all 254 of them, roosting in ploughed fields east of Laverock Hall Farm before a brief walk through the old allotments at Cambois to look for lingering or fresh migrants. The disembodied call of an overhead Redpoll sp. was the highlight of the walk.

Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Record Problem

As some might know I'm currently serving a stint on the Northumberland & Tyneside Bird Club committee, something I think all birders should do at some point or other in order to try and give a bit back (here endeth the sermon). Our AGM last Thursday was livened up a little beyond the usual dull affairs AGM's often are, when Tim Cleeves our current chairman mentioned the issue that the club currently has with historic cards.
Before I explain I should just highlight that anything I write here is purely my own views or opinions and I'm not purporting to represent the committee or any of the views of my peers. I hope however that this might prompt some discussion perhaps from other birders aware of similar issues and solutions across the UK. As it stands a questionnaire to gauge the views of the membership is in draft and the club committee will doubtless take appropriate action with those views forming the basis of it.
Until recently like many bird clubs or societies all of the record submissions were made by observers on cards. The club now has some 420,000 records stored, comprising c.4sq mt of space. The annual cost of storage is close to reaching £500.
The club produces a monthly bulletin and an annual report as well as having a website and more recently a sightings page. As I understand it in recent times no one has accessed the record cards for any purpose. Many of the views expressed at the AGM were that the cards should be retained, or at least that the value of the 'data' contained on the cards was viewed as important to many members. Meanwhile the size of the issue or at least the storage requirements continues to grow, albeit much more slowly since the introduction of electronic submission.
Is the data valuable? It certainly wasn't gathered using scientific methods, at best it may offer a historic perspective, if analysed, about species ocurrence, peak counts or frequency at particular locations. As far as given any indication of the status of common species it represents a very small sample of the county's birds over the last fifty odd years, randomly gathered by the peregrinations of the small band of individuals that formed and maintained the club.
The value though may well lie not in the data itself but what the records represent; the sum total of all the recording of all the birders that followed the same footpaths we do, created some of the sites we visit and observed as the landscape and the impact we have had upon it changed the birds we strive to watch, photograph and enjoy in a myriad of ways.
As always I have an opinion and I'll offer a possible solution, one that some will find unpalatable, though I hope that they will at least engage in the discussion rather than whisper in secret. I would urge the club members to consider allowing the committee to dispose of most of the cards, after a project, for which funding would need to be sort, to extract important data, species, sites, counts, dates etc.
During this I would also see that a number of the cards that highlight moments in the club's recording history and document some of the many fantastic events that members have recorded over the years were retained and either placed in the club archive or better still assembled with other archive material to form a permanent display that could be housed at one of the regions museums such as the Hancock Great North Museum. Such an exhibit would be a fitting tribute to the founding members and all those that have contributed along the way.
With the key data in electronic format, access and research would be made much easier and a public display would both promote the club and celebrate it's heritage, far better than a dusty storage room under lock and key in my humble opinion.

Edit: I've realised after Stewart and Brian's comments that I should have written 'extract all important data' above rather than making it sound as if some species would be ignored.

Monday, 18 October 2010

Irish Ban Poisons

Whilst no one is naive enough to think that the ban implemented by the Irish Government that makes it illegal to poison any birds or animals (apart from rats and mice) will end the problem on the Emerald Isle, it is at least a clear statement of intent and a positive move that is to be welcomed.
An unambiguous statement from Irish Environment Minister John Gormley said the poisonings gave a "very negative image" of Ireland.
"These regulations are to address the poisonings which resulted in the deaths of 12 eagles and other birds of prey earlier this year," he said.
"I am very concerned that these poisoning incidents could damage the projects to re-introduce the golden eagle, white-tailed eagle and red kite which are being funded by my department. Such actions are irresponsible as well as illegal and they give a very negative image of Ireland's farming and tourism sectors, nationally and internationally."



Not the nineties kids novelty pop group but a micro-post to highlight some fantastic images of the Steppe Grey Shrike in Aberdeenshire recently on Chris Gibbin's blog, well worth a look.

Saturday, 16 October 2010

A Birding Rutt

Having extended an invitation to birder, blogger and a man who has just discovered Irn Bru Stephen Rutt to spend a day birding on Holy Island we finally managed to get a suitable combination of tides, trains and free days. I picked SR up from Morpeth last night and after sampling a couple of local real ales we retired reasonably early in preparation for an early start.

With the wind in the north and forecast of showers we didn't expect too much from today, a halt on the causeway provided Stephen with his first Pale-bellied Brent Geese albeit at some distance. As we pulled into the layby for Snook House we obtained much better views. A few yards away a Stonechat observed us from a low hawthorn in the dunes.
Autumn on Holy Island in the wrong conditions can be a stark affair and a walk to Snook House and the scrub fringed pool beyond adequately demonstrated this. A couple of Linnets, a single Skylark and a calling Chaffinch.

From Chare Ends the encroaching tide pushed wave after wave of waders in our direction, the browns and greys of myriad Dunlin and Sanderling mingled along the edge of the water whilst Grey Plovers stood motionless occasionally stooping forwards or taking a step. One that was conspicuous by its absence was Bar-tailed Godwit, despite deliberate searching we didn't see a single individual today.
A Goldcrest calling was the first sign of any migrants in the village, quickly followed by 2-3 Chiffchaff in the sycamores at The Lindisfarne Hotel. A walk around the school produced nothing, a male Blackcap was in the gardens beyond.
Down on the shore west of the vicar's garden a Red-necked Grebe preened in the sunshine and a Black Redstart fed around the seats. Single Red-throated Diver and Red-breasted Merganser loafed off shore. At least two juvenile Gannets wandered into the bay and back out again.

More Chiffchaff and Robins in the priory grounds and then Stephen found a very pale Chiffchaff in a nearby garden. Sadly all the views were from underneath and we lost it after a few minutes never to be seen again, despite a twenty minute search. Typically my photos are crap, the bird never called so i'm not even going to call it a 'possible' but is that the hint of greyish tips to the coverts in the first shot or wishful thinking.

A short seawatch from beyond Lindisfarne Castle produced some distant skuas, a single very distant Sooty Shearwater, a close flyby Long-tailed Duck and hods and hods of Kittiwake.
Pleasantries exchanged with Ian Kerr on the Crooked Lonnen we headed onto the Straight Lonnen where 3-4 Bramblings, a single Fieldfare and a Stoat were the thinly spread fare.

Back at the car with news of a new Red-flanked Bluetail at Mire Loch as well as two Yellow-browed Warblers we headed north for the last couple of hours.
A diligent half hour wading through Goldcrests at the south end of the loch duly produced one of the Yellow-browed Warblers. The only other birder on site added news of a Firecrest at the south end so we surrounded the end plantation for a while, a Redstart, Blackcap and more Chiffchaff and Goldcrest were looking to be a dull end to the day until Stephen glimpsed the Bluetail flashing low across the wood. It remained steadfastly elusive and was not seen again. With light fading we headed off, Stephen duly deposited at Berwick for the train back north and I headed back down the A1, two raptors that looked suspiciously like Marsh Harriers dipping over the road just before the Fenham Mill turn-off were lost to view before they could be claimed.

Friday, 15 October 2010

Mandarins Eat Acorns

Who knew? Not me, one of the fascinating gems to have come out of Martin Davison's excellent talk to Northumberland & Tyneside Bird Club last night entitled Kielder - The First 30 years. Sure enough it's mentioned in BWP that in autumn Mandarins switch diet to beech mast and acorns. So if you're looking for Kielder's Mandarins anytime soon might be best to check out the oak trees rather than the riverbanks.

Wednesday, 13 October 2010

More Blue-Tails

With the unprecedented influx of Red-flanked Bluetail in recent days I had my head in a book last night, it used to be a book anyway but BBi makes it all so much easier to find, I digress. Back as far as 1973 the continued western spread of the species into Finland was noted and written about by Finnish birder/scientist/legend Heimo Mikkola in BB. It is interesting that back then they were reporting that this creep west had been more pronounced in years with warm springs as these helped prolong spring migration.
With climate change perhaps still relatively unheard of HM theorised that this spread west may actually be a recolonisation of former territory that had been abandoned during the last Ice Age.
With the continued warming that has happened since that time (whatever the cause) it may then follow that we can expect an increase in the ocurrence of this most magnificent of migrants and perhaps more years where we get significant numbers.

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Places to Go, People to See

A short post highlighting a couple of links of significant interest. If you're interested in conservation (and if not why not?) you probably read about various issues, projects and topics via the net. Well now you can go one step better and listen to the issues, as conservation champion and one of my blogging heroes, Charlie Moores from 10000birds has just launched a new site called Talking Naturally.
What better way to spend the dark evenings than listening to Charlie interviewing some of the many conservation heroes about the issues via his new series of podcasts. A natural broadcaster Charlie is set to become the Johnny Walker of the conservation world.
Another great blogger Terry Townsend has recently been shipped from Denmark to China and his Birding Copenhagen blog has morphed into Birding Beijing. I dropped by today to check out what he'd been up to over the weekend to find he too had been ticking Red-flanked Bluetail over the weekend, in his garden in Beijing!

Monday, 11 October 2010


I took the kids off north this morning to Alnmouth, less watched but with a lot of cover Alnmouth Common is capable of turning up a few birds. Over the time I had a business in the village Citrine Wagtail and Black Redstart were the only notable birds I found but the south facing bracken filled slopes that are slowly scrubbing over due to lack of management are great for summer warblers.
We took a slow walk from the old drinking fountain to the north end of the beach, a couple of Stonechat, 2-3 Chiffchaff and a huge number of Robin I would estimate there was at least 40, most fly catching from bracken or isolated bushes.
By the time we reached the north end a party of c.30 Pink-footed Geese moved south over the sea and a few minutes later c.50 Barnacle Geese filled another gap in the self-found year list as they moved north, yapping all the way. An unfledged Woodpigeon sat in a nest not 2m from the beach, perhaps not so late for this species but it seemed odd nonetheless as almost everything else has completed its breeding cycle.

After lunch we climbed 'the mountain', an immature Ring Ouzel the pick of the common migrants, lifting from the narrow dice path midway along Bracken Hill just below the beacon. More Chiffchaff and Robins almost every 20m. Later walking back along the road by the golf course pond we found Goldcrest, Blackcap, 5-6 Chiffchaff, Song Thrush and a small party of Siskin feeding in sycamores.

We ended mid-afternoon in the small kids park behind the village that has the advantage of overlooking the estuary. The kids enjoyed some climbing and swinging whilst a flock of c.100 Herring Gull kept me occupied, a single Lesser Black-backed Gull and a darker mantled individual, presumably argentatus from one of the northern populations, the only deviants amongst the group.

Sunday, 10 October 2010

They Think It's All Over....

I'm willing to lay good odds it isn't, there will be many, many good birds still out there to find in the next 2-3 days with the winds continuing to have an easterly inclination and some low cloud on the east coast (at least tomorrow). Today's superb find of an Isabelline Wheatear in Suffolk will no doubt draw some of the attention of the 'long weekenders' if it is still around tomorrow.
After two days that have seen over 1000 reports issued at the office with quality almost outdoing quantity, I finished it by been chauffeur driven by ADMc to Craster to see if we could catch up with the Radde's Warbler found by county recorder Tim Dean this afternoon. I'm pleased I wasn't driving as my eyes continue to hurt from the combined optics and screen marathon. Despite a couple of hours on site there wasn't a sniff but in an area that has a frightening amount of habitat it was perhaps no surprise. That said we had a pleasant enough time, with many Goldcrests, Robins, Chiffchaff, Blackcap too watch as well as a hedge full of Tree Sparrow.
Frank Golding's photographs of some of today's birds such as the St. Mary's tart of a Red-flanked Bluetail parading itself on fenceposts and the Tynemouth Dusky with the most Radde's-like legs I've ever seen, as well as a confiding Yellow-browed Warbler that had been in the hedge behind just before we arrived were entertaining.
Andy and I were the last to leave, Andy picked up a Redstart then as we listened to a calling male Bullfinch in the last 50m of hedge a Yellow-browed Warbler sitting quietly atop a hawthorn in the evening gloom (surely a second bird?) to round off the day.
Tomorrow I am once again sans enfants it really is about time the local ringing groups started to offer creche facilities for stay at home dad birders, I have some great branding ideas Mist Nets for Minors perhaps or Trapping for Toddlers. With a dry day forecast I'll be out looking again somewhere under-watched and where the kids can wrestle sheep or try a bit of surfing whilst I bash bushes or kick tussocks.

A Not So Blue Tale

My eyes hurt. Riding the rollercoaster that has been east coast birding this weekend has me done in and it's far from over. Friday morning with what I thought was a monster scenario with drizzle, south-easterly breeze and mist I was out at dawn at Newbiggin. Sometime later after a few Mipit and a couple of Rock Pipit I was scratching my head a little wondering what was going on. I moved off the coast path and inland over the rough grass of the golf course once again hoping for a large pipit, to be honest I'd have taken anything by this point, Jack Snipe, Woodcock whatever, just something to show for two hours in what should have been great conditions.
Out of the mist from the north they came low and fast, one, two, five, twelve in total, like Spitfires on a mission in a WWII movie the Swallows blew past me and disappeared into the mist to the south.
A few minutes later and from the north east behind me came the familiar call of Redwings I looked up and such was the relief at seeing some proper migrants I actually began to applaud them.
By the time I reached the Ash Lagoon banks, several waves of Redwing and Song Thrush had passed overhead. I spent a good while at the banks, counted 40-50 Song Thrush, moving inland, had  a few Goldcrests and a couple of Siskins and a single Chiffchaff but that was it.
Three and a half hours later I headed off to Woodhorn, some Blackbirds another Chiffchaff, a few Redwings but nothing to get to grips with. Needing to be back for mid-afternoon I made one last stop at Spital Burn, south of Newbiggin. A Barred Warbler here a few days back and I have had Rose-coloured Starling in the allotments albeit in summer. Loads of Greenfinch, perhaps 50, feeding on the dog roses, more Siskin, another Chiffchaff and then in the Elders a big Sylvia Warbler that flushed as I moved for the camera. One look, I was fairly sure it was a Barred Warbler but not 100%. A 1st-winter male Stonechat fed from a nearby fence.
So the first two hours this morning were spent tidying up that loose end and confirming it was Barred Warbler albeit a bloody elusive individual for most of the time, staying low and fairly inactive. Poor light, awkward bird, so you can guess that ';record shot' is just around the corner.

After two hours I headed off to the golf course, I could see Andy Mclevy on the coast path and in front of me in the rough was Graham Bowman and Les Robson one half of the old bird race team I was part of in the late eighties/early nineties. I veered off inland a few hundred yards through the marshy area and began to scan the first scrub patch on the ash lagoon banks confident if anything was behind me I'd get a shout. Several Goldcrests at the back were worth working through to perhaps pick out the odd Firecrest I thought. After a few minutes I turned and GB/LR had walked over to where I stood, the conversation struck up, shared sightings, news, the usual birder talk, after 2-3 minutes we hadn't moved and were still lifting bins to various Thrushes and others as they whirled out of the scrub or dropped in from behind. Les casually asked the question "What's That?" and raising his bins continued to answer himself casually saying "Oh, it's a Red-flanked Bluetail" I almost stumbled, my brain seeming to hang for what seemed an age. The bins came up as did GB's and well, it wasn't just the tail that was blue as the air around us rapidly turned a similar shade.
A spanking, rather bright 1st-winter/female type sat on the lower brambles maybe 20m away. I rattled off a few shots on the camera, which was just as well as we never got as close again and whilst it showed on and off for an hour it was a bit on the shy side. The word duly went out, Birdguides, Andy and other birders including Uncle Jim back down on the patch for the day from Newton.

This was a triple tick for me, life,county and patch, it just doesn't get any better. I hung around for another hour, during which it appeared briefly once or twice, then with work starting early today I headed home.
Being at the other end of the phone gives you a real appreciation of how good today was nationally, two other Red-flanked Bluetail on the east coast, we (birdguides) put out over 500 reports today, I think the highest number I can recall in the 11 months I've been working.The quality was great and even late on there was still news to be dug out with an unreported Little Bunting in Pegwell Bay, Kent and a late report of probable Olive-backed Pipit closer to home at Tynemouth. Put it all together and today has got to be one of the best in recent memory with an excellent spread of good birds. With Sunday still to come there's still time for more to come out of the woodwork, though I've done my bit in the field as I'm working again tomorrow, should be fun.

Tuesday, 5 October 2010


An eclipse male Red-crested Pochard at Bothal Pond tonight provided a short post tea distraction. Still a relatively scarce species this far north with perhaps one or two records a year at most.

Robin Vocalisations

Whilst we were at St. Abbs on Sunday and trying to relocate the Barred Warbler we suddenly heard what sounded like a Swallow alarm call from within the same scrub. This call was repeated several times, after which a Robin was spotted atop a Hawthorn directly in front of us. I've never heard Robins emit this two note call before and I don't think either Stewart or the other birder present had either. Subsequent discussion has resulted in Stewart suggesting a young male 'learning' to sing. I was reminded of this today whilst hanging washing out in the garden as another strange call emanating from our shrubbery also morphed into a Robin. I've just gone through all the Robin calls in Xeno-Canto and there is no recording of this Swallow type call. Anyone else come across it?

Monday, 4 October 2010

Skylarks on the Move

Warm autumn sunshine and a calm day. A couple of hours at Newbiggin this morning was in order. A slow walk through the woodland of the mound yielded little, a few Coal Tit though a calling Great Spotted Woodpecker, either a migrant or dispersing individual as they certainly don't breed there, was only my 2nd ever at Newbiggin. Most of the action seemed to be overhead as I walked through the dappled light amongst the trees. A couple of Swallows hawked about and a steady stream of vocal Skylark came from the grassy waste of the ash lagoons and moved over south.
One of yesterday's many threads of discussion was about the habit that many of us, including myself, fall into in autumn of 'bush bashing' as Stewart aptly described it yesterday. A concentration on one type of micro-habitat to the exclusion of others. Keen to redress the balance and put a mark in the huge void where big pipits should be on almost every list I keep I tore my gaze from the ash lagoon scrub and headed out into the juncus punctuated long grass at the heart of the golf course.
It was obvious that there was a significant movement of Skylark as they were lifting from around me every 20m, several Meadow Pipits amongst them. Small groups of 3-4 fed in the rough and aside the drainage ditches, whilst others moved over, some high judging from the calls.

As I crossed an occasional Skylark would slip into song and an echo of spring would pour from the sky. Sadly the big pipit void is staying just as a big a void as it was when I started out as there was not a sniff of anything else apart from the two common species mentioned.
Yesterday's rain has brought an inch or so of standing water to big patches of the golf course and the local Redshank were quick to take advantage with c.20 feeding around the small pools and the adjacent wet grass.

As I headed back to the car a small tribe of Long-tailed Tit cane up from one of the nearby gardens and landed in the few decrepit trees that border the long since abandoned football pitch. The only other migrant of the morning a single Chiffchaff flew with them. It repeatedly flew up as they moved from tree to tree towards one or other of the tits, almost hovering beneath it as it flew.

Sunday, 3 October 2010

Working the Abbs

After three birthdays and a wedding I've been feeling a little stir-crazy; a need to get back out, breathe some air and find some birds. Keen too to have a little conversation that didn't involve kids, honeymoons or alcohol consumption I hastily rang around a few likely candidates last night to see if they were interested in a jaunt.
By the second call I was beginning to think that I had a hotline into an old folks home the number of back complaints I was coming across, however fellow blogger and a man with more crack than a New York whorehouse, Stewart, was up for a morning in the field.
With Holy Island sinking under the combined weight of birders and tourists, I'd hatched a plan to strike a little further north this morning. We crossed the border into Scotland, intrigued by the Gaelic on the welcome signs which seems to say something about Pied Wagtails though not too sure what.
Our first destination was a location we have both visited at separate times for different birds over the years, SS for Red-flanked Bluetail and a King Eider for me; though neither of us have birded there looking for migrants. Whatever the birding the one thing about doing it somewhere like St. Abbs Head is you can be sure that you feel like you're somewhere special.

 The view north from the small car park is superb, even the dull grey skies and dreek drizzle that lay waiting for us this morning couldn't dampen down the feeling you're birding somewhere special. These cliffs buzz with breeding seabirds in the summer, though a few distant Eider and some Cormorants on those lower rocks were all that remained this morning.

Look inland and south and Mire Loch with its surrounding gorse scrub and small wood is prime migrant habitat. This morning was no exception, within minutes SS had stumbled on a Barred Warbler  though what was likely the same bird darted into the deep scrub minutes later, never to be seen again despite two good searches. Further along the track a Ring Ouzel exploded from a small Rowan. A decent sized mixed flock at the far end near the old boathouse lifted hopes of something decent but a single Willow Warbler amongst the 4-5 Chiffchaff were as good as it got. A Common Buzzard flew over mobbed by several corvids, Sparrowhawk across the loch landing on the other side; single Redstart and Spotted Flycatcher in the wood, neither showing particularly well. Two other birders arrived and we headed back to the north end flushing a Pipit sp. that went up did a few circuits and dropped back in without calling as we went. Back at the north end more Chiffchaff, three Siskin and SS had a Reed Warbler whilst I was embedded higher up the scrub.
With the rain incessant contrary to our expectations we moved south to St. Abbs village. A single Wheatear moved up the fence aside the road as we departed.
St. Abbs is small, the bushes around the church provided a little cover, although 2 male Blackcaps were all the blackthorn and elderberry held. The big walled garden of Northfield House running north from the back of St. Abbs looked interesting so we walked along the footpath behind it. A huge amount of cover could have held anything behind the high wall, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Goldcrest were all we eked out. The small rocky bay directly north of here was Rock Pipit heaven with probably up to ten mixing it on the rocks and beach. Stewart said ''we should check the beach for Black Redstart'' which we both duly did, barely seconds later I shouted ''Black Redstart'' with Stewart almost immediately adding a second.
Next stop Burnmouth, a female Merlin cut across in front of the car before pitching onto the bare earth of the nearby field just long enough to get the bins on it.
Burnmouth, remembered by SS as once having had Isabelline Shrike, is a steep scrubby ravine dropping into a small harbour and few cottages. It could be a Cornish landscape, 6-8 hirundines with both Swallow and House Martin hawked overhead the cotoneaster clad slopes as we picked our way along a steep path bordered by plump blue/black sloes. Whilst it proved migrant-less, it's certainly a site worth dropping into if you're passing that way. The rain continued to fall and being old and wet we headed back south, a brief foray to the shore at Fenham breaking up the journey back.