Saturday, 30 April 2011

Yesterday's Spectacle

Like many thousands of others I was up early yesterday. The camping chair was out as I found myself a prime position to sit and watch from as they passed by. I knew it was to be a long day so I even packed an extra cushion and some food. The weather was good and I was soon enjoying the spectacle of those on the move in smart black and white livery. It wasn't too long before I was joined by another observer keen to make the most of the day and avoid all things wedding.

With a brisk east breeze Newbiggin (where else?) was an obvious destination to check on any sea passage; good numbers of auks including a high percentage of Razorbills moved through (c.20 in 10 minutes); ADMc picked up our first Manx Shearwater of the year and a small movement of Red-throated Divers north punctuated the morning.

Castle Island up next and a drake Shoveler on the river, whilst four Common Swifts were my first this year, hawking for insects above the south bank trees with all three hirundine species present as well.

I headed south to Cambois, quiet for birds with two non-singing  Grasshopper Warblers and a Common Whitethroat the only notable sightings. Walking back along the old railway line I did however note some moths on the wing. Last year I 'found' a small colony of Lesser Treble Bar at this site. Struck me yesterday that it was still April (oh I'm bright) and to be honest I wasn't sure if the other (Treble Bar) didn't also occur here,so I texted TT the county moth recorder. Eventually after a few texts I went back to the car and trapped one, it's in the fridge pending pictures and proper identification. Either way it's the first April record in the county for either species and if it is Lesser Treble Bar as I suspect it's a good two weeks earlier than previous earliest.

I headed up the coast in the afternoon, the adult Black-tailed Godwit still on Cresswell Pond though I spent more time searching through the hirundines for non-existent Red-rumped Swallows. A couple of birders at the entrance to Druridge turned out to be watching a spanking male Black Redstart. Sadly I didn't take the camera with me as it was raining when I went back out so I had to improvise with a bit of Iphone-scoping.

After a quick look from the Budge screen, 2 Pintails still and a small number of Wigeon, I moved on to East Chevington chasing the earlier shower and that Red-rumped Swallow or perhaps a Black Tern. In the event I settled for some outstanding views of a flock of 15 Whimbrel feeding in a field south of the north pool. Parking in a gateway, using the car as a hide and simultaneously holding scope and phone produced perhaps the best result I've ever had digiscoping as they fed close to the gate until flushed by a calling Crow.

Monday, 25 April 2011

Easy Easter

Three days of work included this on Friday. Interspersed with some family stuff over the weekend and some early morning birding today picking up Redstart, Whitethroat and Lesser Whitethroat amongst others along the way.

The moths have been steady with a couple of new additions for the garden including Herald and Muslin Moth; have some pics:


 Muslin Moth

Avoiding the crowds today we took a woodland walk along one of my favourite rivers and discovered a little secret place for the kids to enjoy.

Thursday, 21 April 2011

The Price of Pheasants?

Up in one of the Cheviot Valleys yesterday sans enfants we had almost constant contact with the area's commonest raptor Common Buzzard. Several different individuals picked out over the day as they criss-crossed the valley, often at no more than 60-70ft and directly over our head. They displayed, landed on nearby hillsides and at one point I had a scope view that included two Buzzards and a Brown Hare all within six feet of each other!
One particular individual though stood out and not for the right reasons. Take a look at the left wing of the individual below, it cannot be moult and almost certainly must be as a result of been trapped or shot probably the latter. Anyone with a better explanantion feel free to leave comments.
Whilst circumstantial it was no surprise to see this individual in an area full of released Pheasants and a good few Red Grouse to boot.

Some of the other individuals today:


Just three moths in the trap this morning, in no small part due to the sea fret that penetrated far inland overnight, smacking down the temperatures. I pulled out two Hebrew Character and then I pulled out the ugliest moth I think I've ever seen. This thing wouldn't be out of place in a Dr Who Christmas Special, or at least on one of the old Tom Baker episodes. However beauty is in the eye of the beholder and what this particular hunchback has going for it is it's a bit rare up here in the northern wastelands; only five previous records and only recorded for the first time six years back in 2005. After photographing it this morning on a garden Hazel I left it in peace, it was still basking in its ugly rarity this afternoon as I did some pruning. So feast your eyes on the moth formerly known as Quasimodo but since the marketing people got a hold of it now called Tawny Pinion Lithophane semibrunnea.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

New Moths

With the Skinner, numbers have gone up a little but the clear nights still seem to keeping a lid on things. New stuff so far this week has included Shuttle-shaped Dart, Oak Tree Pug and a micro-micro Eriocrania subpurpurella that was a beast to try and photograph without a macro lens. Thanks are due to SS/TT for ID help.

Barbarella - Eriocrania subpurpurella

Shuttle-shaped Dart

Monday, 18 April 2011

Yellow-barred Brindle

Except it's pistachio green so whoever named it must have been a bit colour blind. Putting that to one side when I eventually managed to ID it I was quite pleased. Only one previous April record before this year, though I read of another earlier one elsewhere this April in addition to mine. A mere 18 county records in total and first recorded in 1977.

Yellow-barred Brindle

 Like others I also trapped my first 'normal' Water Carpet of the year a day or two back after the recent dark ones. Tom Tams has kindly loaned me a Skinner trap so I'm expecting big things in the coming weeks, it'll be interesting to see how the catches compare to my home made 'Heath Robinson' now retired to the garage on standby.

Water Carpet

Saturday, 16 April 2011

Courtship Calls As An Aid to Black Scoter Identification?

Sure it's got a great big yellow knob on the bill, at least the adult males have. All the Black Scoters recorded so far in Britain and Western Europe have been adult males. Why just adult males what about other ages? They must be occurring and must be overlooked as the differences are 'subtle' (to quote someone else).

As I wrote in my post yesterday I noticed the frequent and prolonged opening of the bill during display of the adult male Black Scoter currently off Bamburgh. One or two other observers have noted and commented on it again today. I did a little reading and came across a paper on the 'Acoustic Differences Between Nigra and Americana' (see here).

It makes some interesting points including ' The calls of americana are more protracted and often involve a rise in pitch (either at the start of the call, in the middle of the note, or towards the end) which is not observed in nigra.'

Also ' ...on average the call of nigra lasts for just 0.1 seconds whilst americana averages 0.7 seconds' On a spectrogram that highlights a huge visual difference and could well be the reason behind the more obvious bill opening observed in this individual.

Is it only adult males that utter courtship calls in Spring? Might it be possible to focus in on a 1st-winter male that is courtship calling amongst a group and use the extended bill opening as a way of indicating an individual that warrants further attention?

Edit: That's always assuming 1st-winter males get involved in courtship of course!

Friday, 15 April 2011

Black Scoter

There are many reasons why I love Northumberland. I'm only going to bore you with one of them. Whilst the rest of the country regularly descends into chaos at twitches, here they are nothing but well behaved and orderly.
Sometimes I just want to add a message to to birds like this, you know how they go "please stick only to the beach; do not queue in front of the castle and please don't paddle in the surf"

So at 06:50 this morning, that was it, the twitch plus me and two others out of camera shot, oh and 150 Common Scoter and a rather nice drake Black Scoter.

 That could be the Black Scoter on the left but using a 400mm only who knows.

We spent about an hour just breathing in the morning atmosphere, decent views on a glass calm sea; the drake put on a great display, occasionally displaying to female Common Scoters, allowing a good comparison between it and the drake Commons present. Apart from the obvious bill differences, it certainly had a thicker neck (cited by Martin Garner in Frontiers in Birding). One of the notable behavioural differences though was the amount of vocalisation, we couldn't actually hear any sounds but it continually opened it's bill wide apparently calling, something that was almost exclusive to it as I only once or twice noted a Common Scoter behaving this way. I spent a little time trying to compare the dive jizz but couldn't spot any significant difference to Common Scoter here. A single Long-tailed Duck was the only other duck of note.
We wandered up above Stag Rocks and scoped north, a few hirundines, 3 Red-throated Divers and lots of Harbour Porpoise. I would estimate about 15-20 individuals spread across a fairly wide area.
A House Martin flew north as we walked back to sort some breakfast out. 

A little later after a brief stop at Hoppen Kiln we checked out Budle Bay, 62 Lesser Black-backed Gulls and the over-wintering Greenshank were the highlights. The LBB Gulls seemed to include a number of intermedius individuals, in fact they may have been more numerous than graellsii, or did we have one exceptional pale graellsii amongst a whole bunch of others?

After meeting Serenity skipper Andrew Douglas earlier in the morning, we decided to head out with him over to Inner Farne and had a splendid trip across calm seas, a good look at the usual seabird suspects. Star bird was a Merlin sat on a crane on Longstone, probably an immature we decided judging by the patchy mantle.

The great thing about birding from Serenity's twin hulled catamaran is the ability to get in close in shallower water allowing us a bit of a closer look at a rather unexpected late visitor to the islands.

Tuesday, 12 April 2011

Latest Moth Activity

I've only trapped occasionally since I last posted but some nice new additions to the garden list have been forthcoming in the form of Early Grey, Early Thorn, Powdered Quaker and Least Black Arches. It looked like the Least Black Arches might have been the earliest Northumberland record by a clear nine days! Subsequently after emailing TT it appears at least five were trapped over the weekend including at least one on 10th.
Early Grey Xylocampa areola
 Early Thorn  Selenia dentaria
 Powdered Quaker Orthosia gracilis
 Least Black Arches Nola confusalis

In addition Streamer and Shoulder Stripe were both new for the year and more dark Water Carpets began to appear last night.
Streamer Anticlea derivata

An interesting diversion with the kids involved transporting the many Hebrew Characters from conservatory to garden shrubs using a good old-fashioned multi-use lolly stick, after learning the name and it's key identification features of course.

Sunday, 10 April 2011


Sprung indeed, not enough hours in the day to keep up with everything, work, photographs, birding. To be honest I've made a bit of an effort to spend as little time in front of the computer as possible in the last few days. Here's a quick round-up of the past few days.

After some splendid views of Black-necked Grebe my chauffeur for the day and I found ourselves hunting the upper reaches of the North Tyne for Mandarin. Approaching the riverside at the regular site at Ridley Stokoe two females exploded from the riverbank almost at my feet and wheeled away behind one of the wooded, shingle islands. A little further upriver a few minutes still on the bank produced a pair further upstream. Our main destination was the Osprey viewpoint and we couldn't have picked a better day, warm, sunny and pleasant. We spent about 1.5 hours in the morning without seeing anything remotely fish-eating though other distractions were many and varied Goshawk, Sparrowhawk, Common Buzzard, Siskin and various vocally distinct Crossbills. We lunched on the Bakethin dam with a few Swallows for company. Here we were joined by a strange long-haired bloke in a trench coat with huge bins, who seemed to have made the journey to Kielder to let off bubbles over the lake (and they say birders are strange!). Andy picked out a blob on an orange buoy at the back of Bakethin which we eventually managed to turn into a Common Sandpiper when it flew.
Back to the viewpoint an Osprey sneaked onto last year's platform and stood on the adjacent post for a good 20 minutes before taking off and beginning to gain height. A couple of minutes later it was joined by a second bird and the pair proceeded to display high over the forest with some amazing dives with half tucked wings before moving off.
About 3 miles from home after a 90 mile round trip we were a tad surprised to have yet another Osprey come charging over the road ahead of us with an entourage of corvids snapping at its heels.

With an away match in the Under-Nines and my brother and family up ijn the afternoon Saturday was expected to be a bird free day. A couple of hours in the garden post lunch tidying up produced four Swallows overhead and singing Willow Warbler predictably in the nearby willows.

An early morning charge around Woodhorn and Newbiggin added Blackcap for the year to the patch list. Five Wheatears spread about the place, nest-building Chiffchaff, singing Willow Warbler. What was almost certainly a reeling Grasshopper Warbler heard briefly in the scrubby field next to Alcan before security arrived to frisk me and escort me out, citing concerns about industrial espionage; personally I think they may have beenn bribed by one of my fellow patch-listers.
Further up the coast, two Avocets remained at Cresswell Pond and a pair of Garganey, found at Druridge by others, were looked for but only the drake was visible tucked up on the weedy edge in front of the South hide late morning.

Those Funny Jackdaws

I like Jackdaws, not least because you can't confuse them with Dunlin. I like foreign Jackdaws even more and I like pontificating over their origins so when Martin Garner asked me to write up a blog post on the 'intergrades' that I think account for some of the collared Jackdaws we get in late winter I was more than happy to oblige, though to be honest much of the material is a translation of a French paper. You can find the post at Martin's superb Birding Frontiers site here.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The Real Influencers

I posted yesterday's post about the Ecairn 'influencers' post slightly tongue in cheek. No doubt it had a few scratching their heads thinking 'how did he....' Me too for a short while but it didn't take too long to track down how Ecairn had arrived at their list and to be honest I felt a little short-changed, I think they did what many of these sites/companies/individuals do and scratch the surface. They took some headline numbers and a pre-existing listing of birding blogs and mashed the two together. The reality is that the 20 blogs they hit on just happened to be the 20 in that particular listing, whilst some may well have 'influence' for others (including my own) I'd say that was a little questionable.
This got me thinking though, who do I think the influencers are in bird blogging? So I've set about trying to answer this. I'm not going to rank these sites as I'm not sure hits or traffic is a pure determinant of influence and this is a personal view so perhaps some of these will influence me but not you.

Ted Eubanks one of the finest minds in US birding in my opinion. Writes fluently, intelligently and in depth across a range of birding topics. Many of Ted's chosen subjects transcend national borders. Don't expect daily content, this is quality rather than quantity guaranteed to challenge your thinking about birding and the mechanics and dynamics of our birding lives.

10,000Birds was the leading bird blog in the US. The recent addition of a large number of other authors and the loss of Charlie Moores has weakened the site in the short term but 10kbirds has readership, an authoritative voice and history. It will bounce back but needs to find clear goals again to be at it's best. The strength of some of the authors will pull it through tough times.

Laura Kammermeier a long-time favourite writer of mine, LK covers wide ground, writes well and has insight. Recently she has been at the forefront of the Bird-Friendly Coffee campaign in the US and I've no doubt has significantly influenced the coffee purchasing trends of more than a few birders. Great trip reports that delve deep into the psyche of some fantastic birding destinations and a superb understanding of technology and how it influences the birding marketplace.

David Sibley  An established name in the US in Field Guides and identification, now using his blog to push the boundaries in many areas. With a strong brand reputation and an established product portfolio Sibley is a major player in the US with the potential to reach further should he choose to do so.

Martin Garner stretching our thinking in identification matters Martin's Birding Frontiers book and website is constantly challenging us to break new ground and look critically at everything we see. Martin may still not be 'mainstream' in UK birding but with his relaxed informal style and infectious personality Birding Frontiers will be a force to be reckoned with in the future.

Dominic Mitchell as Editor of Birdwatch DM already has considerable influence to create and highlight trends in UK birding. His personal blog leaves little doubt that this is more than a job and good quality content will continue to see his personal rating and influence soar.

Lee Evans he may be the anti-hero of British Birding, the man birders love to hate but his opinions whether you like them or not create a stir. People don't get worked up about things that don't matter. LGRE has had limited success with commercial projects such as his Ultimate Sites book and UK400 Club but if he could translate more of his prodigious output and 'brand awareness' into something marketable his influence, reach and revenue would surely follow.


Birding is a niche business, stating the obvious there are many niches. Global players are few and far between and mainly restricted to optics manufacturers but there are platforms and businesses out there with the potential to be great on a world scale.

Birdguides whilst unquestionably a leading player and influencer in UK terms the recent expansion into mobile applications delivers a potential reach into the global market for a business with a diverse product portfolio and a strong customer base. Check out the new Birds of Brazil App as an example.

Dale Forbes perhaps one of the few individuals in birding with obvious global reach and influence. As product manager with Swarovski, a blogger at 10,000 Birds and Dale is no stranger to seeding his content and seeking to influence and find influencers. Whilst DF is obviously the human face of a global brand it seems he has been given enough rope to swing wherever he sees fit.

I could go on but I think I might have made my point, it's all too easy to look at a business from the outside, throw a few numbers together and spend some time on Google but it doesn't actually provide real insight for the many businesses for whom knowledge of who can influence is so important in a digital global market.

Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Influence, Apparently

Ecairn is a private software technology company based in Silicon Valley in California, they specialize in community and influencers marketing and differentiate in 'who matters'. Listen and engage with people who matter reads their strapline.

I nearly choked on my Vimto Ice Lolly then when I followed a link on 10,000 Birds to their post entitled 'B is for Business, Blogs and Birds' where they have taken a brief look at the 'birding market' and spent some time looking at blogs to identify a list of the Top20 Influencers. Apart from recognising some rather popular US blogs that one at number 11 has a ring of the familiar about it.....

Birds on the Bay

The text arrived just as I was leaving swimming lessons with all three kids, a Shorelark at Druridge. There aren't too many in Northumberland with a handful of records annually these days and they are smart birds after all so I rang AG to get some more information. Found early afternoon by Winnie (ex-Craster) and still present late afternoon. There and back in an hour I figured.

No one there when I arrived, which is the way I like it to be honest, at least you have to look rather than just have it pointed out. I tumbled out the car and a few seconds later it was eye-balling me from the grassy knoll.

Smart, by the time IDR arrived I'd filled my boots, grabbed some pictures and was perched on a molehill scoping it as it scurried about the weedy short turf. I didn't see any 'horns' in the field but looking at that first shot it does seem to have short horns, female perhaps?

Not wishing to waste the petrol I headed back via Cresswell for a quick roadside stop. Without even lifting the bins there were three rather obvious Avocets north of the causeway, including a colour-ringed individual, a long overdue Northumberland self-found tick for me. A further scan around produced three White Wagtails and a Yellow Wagtail, probably my earliest ever Yellow Wagtail in Northumberland.

 Feeling rather too pleased with myself  I stopped again at Lynemouth Flash, a small wader just over the rise of the spit looked tiny with a little streaking at the breast sides, creeping about and not showing well, picking stint-like and by now I'm on the phone to ADMc saying "forget the Avocets I might have a Temminck's Stint" though by the time he arrived four or five minutes later said small wader had outed itself as something rather less rare, ho hum. I'm trying to make the most of it and string it as an arctica/schinzii type, though frankly I'd probably be better just shutting up. I could of course have just left this little faux pas out of the post but in my view if you're not making mistakes you're not trying hard enough (and slightly less than honest).

Monday, 4 April 2011

Just Say NO

"Just Say No" I remember the campaign strapline as if it was yesterday, you couldn't go past a billboard or get through an advert break in The Dukes of Hazzard without seeing it. Even Grange Hill got in on the act with some of sort of half-baked song of the same title linking in with the addiction of one it's pupils if my memory isn't fried.

When you're nineteen you're immortal right? The future's way off in the distance and all that matters is now. Glastonbury, Bob Marley may be dead but the Wailers are belting out a beat that just make you sway and bounce man (and you can say man cos' it's c.1984 and you're in a crowd full of rastas), there's an endless sea of dreadlocks and a sweet-smelling blue smoke hanging four feet above the crowd. Every second tent is passing off strychnine laced paper with happy smiley faces as LSD and you're immortal right?

The sun sneaks above the distant horizon to find you waiting for it, high on the hill, somewhere in the distance a radio crackles into life "She took me in and gave me breakfast... and she said... Do you come from a land down under?"

You hear about flashbacks, I thought it was all a load of tosh until tonight. That's all I can credit the three and a half minutes of madness too. With the hour on and dishes done I slipped out for a quick look at Bothal. Scope up it looked pretty quiet, maybe it was the black car that went past; window down I just caught a few bars "...because I come from the land of plenty.."

Look back through the scope and it went a little blurry and then suddenly I'm in Queensland or Sydney bloody Harbour watching this.

Anyway I got straight on the phone to a mate to tell him about this strange experience and I'm trying to have a sensible conversation about how spanking the above duck is and he really should call in and see it even if it has just jumped the fence when he says he can't get down as he's trimming his toenails. At this point I'm looking at the phone in disbelief when that black car comes past again "you better run, you better take cover....." 50 yards down the road car screams to a halt  driver jumps out and opens the boot, lifts a large object out and throws it over the fence and I'm thinking "Bastard fly-tippers" when I notice that object is flapping out of the corner of my eye.

Car screams off so I drove down and looked over the hedge and there sat on the edge of the pool is one of those big Mallard x Duclair hybrid thingys. Quacking like mad this beast takes one look me at me and you can see it's thinking "FEED ME" and it's looking for a way back through the fence. I left before the duck spoke. I'm now off to lie down.

Friday, 1 April 2011

BBRC In Clandestine Curlew Caper

Rumours surrounding BBRC and the Slender-billed Curlew have been rife in recent days see here and here. Only now though am I able to bring you the exclusive shocking truth of what has really been happening behind the scenes.
Earlier today a top BBRC operative known as Agent M was captured on a covert mission deep in Northumberland whilst trying to secure detailed location images of the Druridge Pools site. Images taken by the snatch team leave no doubt as to the identity of the operative in question and that he had accessed the site in  question; we believe he was operating alone.

We are still to ascertain how Agent M managed to access this most holy of Northumberland's birding sites. Agent M was immediately removed and bundled into an old Vauxhall Zafira a military vehicle and removed to Cresswell Pond one of Northumberland's Top Birding Locations for interrogation, after a short stop to look at some Twite.

Despite the years of training to cope with extreme conditions and deprivation we know these covert operatives undergo in Shetland politically unstable, militant and remote locations. Using the internationally accepted and Geneva Convention recognised interrogation technique of Cormorant Race Identification, Agent M gave up many of the best kept secrets of the Dirty Dozen BBRC when questioned by Colonel Mike 'sinensis' Hodgson.

Whilst the more reactionary elements of Northumberland Birding have, as is known, issued a Fatwa against the BBRC leading council, forcing many of them to go into hiding and only meet in secret locations. The NTBC committee decided on returning Agent M after some brainwashing gentle persuasion.

An exchange was duly agreed with the other side and a little after midday today Agent M was taken to the Birding Frontier and placed on a train heading south. Northumberland Birders armed with the retained BBRC secret code identification books are now confident that the long absence of Yellow-legged Gull and Caspian Gull in the county will be corrected and that those Eiders around the Farnes with big, bright orange bills just might actually be worth looking at.