Wednesday, 29 June 2011

June 29

Whilst some will have been distracted by the ongoing listing soap opera and others will be doing dragons and butterflies mid-summer slips gently over and return passage has kicked in. Castle Island has now got 20 years of proven pedigree when it comes to waders if the water levels are decent and the amount of exposed mud is beginning to look good after the recent rain.

2011 will be remembered as an excellent year for Spoonbills in Northumberland, probably the best on record, and hopefully an indicator for future years. Three this afternoon at Castle Island, all un-ringed at least one of which was an immature was a good start just after midday.

Waders included a male Ruff, first reported yesterday, 3 Common Sandpipers and 2 Green Sandpipers were initially well spread; though by the time I called back late afternoon were all at the west end where a large area of mud is currently exposed.

Enthused I headed up into Druridge Bay first to Cresswell, hoping for something nice along the northern edge of the pool. Sadly the waders I found weren't quite what I had hoped for.
There was a further three dogs out of shot, six in total. They weren't too keen on leaving when asked either and  we had a frank exchange of views in the car park, though I doubt anything I said permeated the halo the madam was wearing.
Wader-less I moved on up to East Chevington and remained wader-less though a single Roseate Tern made up for it. I shot down to North Blyth on high tide to count the wader roost and whilst the birds here are probably all fairly local, numbers have increased 50% in 6 days indicating the ongoing return to the coast. Roll on July.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Out As Dinner

Kind of feeling a little unmotivated on the blog front at the moment. I'm not a big fan of the heat, with the extra weight I've acquired over the years I feel sluggish when it gets hot and reminded that I need to exert more self-discipline when it comes to chocolate products.

Last night I allowed myself to become dinner for a small selection of the region's flying insects courtesy of some dusk birding. Whilst I spent most of the time looking like I had some sort of affliction causing me to wave my arms around my head frenetically at intervals of 3-5 seconds, I did manage to get some birding in. A roding Woodock three times overhead or 3 roding Woodcock, two reeling Grasshopper Warblers and (fanfare) a magic encounter with target bird when a Nightjar dropped onto the forest track in front of me and allowed approach to about 20m. I was able to watch for around 2-3 minutes as it flicked up from the track and dropped back down 5-6 times, each time rendering itself invisible as it rose above the pale yellow track.

One of the pleasing aspects of last night's little excursion was that this was the first record for this area in the last six years (possibly only the second ever) and all three species were new for the tetrad in the current Atlas.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Running Out Of Vaguely Humorous Moth Puns

So I'll just post some pictures of some of the new stuff trapped between 13-17th June. The catches are getting bigger and the micros have appeared so time spent on identification is increasing, with mixed results. Were it not for the patient help of the likes of Tom Tams and Tim Barker the two north east recorders as well as Stewart, I'd be drowning in pugs and Argiresthia sp.

It hasn't been all moths, I managed to spend 14 hours in the field on Thursday much of it on the eastern side of Wark Forest, followed by a spell on Plenmeller and a couple of hours in Slaley Forest. Lots of juvenile Crossbills roaming about in feeding parties, a day count of 25+ 'Northumbrian' Honey Buzzards. Great views of a female Merlin hunting from a fence line, good numbers of Tree Pipit and a brief, loud. close and extremely frustrating 30 second burst of churring from a Nightjar that slipped away unseen into the  night.

Castle Island was quiet on Friday after which I spent a happy hour working through a 200 strong flock of Herring Gulls feeding on sand eels trapped in a beach pool trying to turn any of them into something more interesting than argenteus.

 Shaded Broad-bar
 Magpie Moth
 Clouded Border
 Figure of Eighty
 'Northumbrian' Honey Buzzard (aka Common Buzzard)
 A decent vantage
 Straw Dot
 Barred Yellow
 Shoulder-striped Wainscot
 Burnished Brass

Friday, 17 June 2011

Sad Tidings

The news that one of Northumberland's most well known sons has died reached me via the Farnes wardens earlier. Billy Shiel a name synonymous with The Farnes had been at the head of the family business operating the Glad Tidings Boat Trips for many decades. There can't be many birders in the country who haven't travelled over to view the amazing Farnes spectacle using one of Billy's boats over the years.

Whilst I met Billy a few times I can't claim to have known him other than as a passing acquaintance but I have a great deal of respect for the business he built up and the effort he personally put in. I noticed over the winter as I returned from one trip out of Seahouses on a not particularly warm day that one of the few people in Seahouses harbour that day was Billy; despite his years he was still there around the Glad Tidings office with a word for those arriving back from the islands.

He may have been at the head of a family business but I'm also sure that over the years his tours ensured that many many people took more of an interest in birds and nature or at least had the opportunity to get close to a spectacle that rarely fails to impress and amaze those that make the trip. How many of us who talk about inspiring others to take an interest can lay claim to sharing a truly incredible experience with over a million people?

I'm sure everyone reading will join me in sending condolences to the Shiel family on their sad loss.

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Smooth Hedgehog & Friends

Almost a week since my last post and despite coming down from the White-throated Robin fuelled high it has been a fairly busy one. Friday found me heading north into some little watched inland areas, a Cuckoo at Foumart Knowe, Spotted Flycatchers at Chillingham along with breeding Herring & Lesser Black-backed Gulls at Holburn Moss were the highlights.
At the coast a Little Egret was again south of the Holy Island causeway.

 Small Copper - Holburn Moss
Red-legged Partridge - Holborn Village

Friday night added a new moth species to the garden list, a common one but that shouldn't detract from the rather impressive Buff-tip that acts as a stunt double for small silver birch branches when they are called for.
Sadly despite hanging onto it for 2 days the light was never good and every time I tried to grab a picture it seemed to rain.

An early start Sunday produced a single Spoonbill at Castle Island along with a Little Ringed Plover. I'd been poring over a 1st-summer Lesser Black-backed Gull and in the process skipped over a 1st-summer Med Gull that was picked up by STH.and crew further downriver. A 1st-summer drake Goldeneye continued the theme. Further up the coast at Cresswell another Spoonbill slept on the spit whilst at East Chevington I was lucky to be sat just a couple of minutes when a Bittern got up and dropped into the NW corner of the north pool before briefly clambering up the phragmites. A 'white-winged gull' here appeared to be a leucistic Herring Gull or possibly a hybrid with some glaucoides influence. I thought the bird was a 3rd-summer showing a non-adult type washed out looking bill with dark rather than orange/red on the lower mandible.

Monday found the kids and I at Cresswell where four Spoonbills fed briefly before flying off SSW; eight 1st-summer Little Gulls were also hanging about. Monday night was a decent moth night with at least two new moths for the garden, a so far unidentified micro and the aforementioned smooth hedgehog (copyright S Sexton) a Drinker amongst 30 species, 87 individuals. Large Yellow Underwing and Common Wainscot were new for the year.


Thursday, 9 June 2011

New Month New Moths

Have trapped three times in the last eight days with mixed results. Good conditions on 3rd resulted in 30 species, 80 moths whilst three days later my return was 6 species 18 moths. Green Pug, Coxcomb Prominent, Snout, Pale-shouldered Brocade and Ghost Moth are all new for the year; the only garden addition so far this month was Ingrailed Clay.

 Ingrailed Clay
 Pale-shouldered Brocade
Ghost Moth

Filtering the Farnes

Still wading through megabyte after megabyte of Farnes images, here are a small selection that I quite like so far.

Monday, 6 June 2011

Bowled Over

After several days of birding I fancied something different today. I'd heard on the grapevine that there was a big bowling match on in Hartlepool and I've been meaning to get the kids interested, it's such a gentle game and all that stretching and knee bending keeps you supple.
I was a little surprised when a couple of the lads wanted to join us as I hadn't realised just how passionate they were about the old game. Stewart even took a flexi day offering to point out the finer points to the kids. Bowling has really taken off in a big way since I was last at a game, I was amazed at the number of spectators who had arrived early and were all enjoying the sunshine, staking their place for the big game. Interesting too how technology seems to have brought lots of new people into the game, many of the fans today had binoculars and even telescopes so they could get up close to the action and not miss out on a crucial end.
 Some of the new spectators

You could tell they were all very knowledgeable about the game as I kept overhearing people referring to the "white" and "sweetie" (that's the jack if you're not into bowls) and also quite a few kept talking about the "third" that's the one who decides the result of each end.
It has to be said though that these recent recruits to the game need to polish up on their etiquette a little and improve their attention span. Every few minutes they kept getting distracted by a Robin in the flower beds at one end of the green. I kept telling them I've got two of those coming regularly to my garden, ten a penny down our way, funny thing it was, just a bit bigger than my Robins and didn't even have a proper red breast just some patchy orange shading along it's flanks.
 The Robin Causing a Fuss

Just between you and me these new fans also need to get with the dress code, very few in white and quite a few of them could do with a shave.
Apart from this bird causing a distraction the day was superb, we did have a parking problem as we arrived as it seemed some travellers had parked up and their urchin kids were up to no good.
 "Can you see the Wallet?"
The Chocolate Bribe

So no birding for me today, anything about?

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Endless Summer?

I'd accepted an invitation to head out west with Stewart, John & Roger to look for butterflies and dragonflies on Friday. The warmth of the sun was already obvious when the car pulled onto the drive early morning. Dressed for a day in the field I was taken aback when two of the Beach Boys slipped from the car to greet me. With no time to change I wedged my gear into the boot, I say wedged as the boot was so full of food I thought we must doing a food drop to Cumbrian Flood victims. "God only knows how they'll get through this lot" I thought.
The Boys set off for a day in the field

We'd no sooner left the street when the harmonies started with Stewart and John in the front; by the time we reached Acomb I was looking out the window thinking "Help me Roger, Help, Help me Roger". A civilised cup of tea in Roger's new lodgings set the pace for the day. We headed to Findlandrigg Wood aiming to connect with Marsh Fritillaries we couldn't have asked for a better day, sunshine as far as the eye could see, I was getting good vibrations.

 The Boys at Findlandrigg Wood ready to start (that's Roger with the beard and blue hat)

We fair surfed through the woodland paths to the meadows and very rapidly connected with our first big target of the day Marsh Fritillary. We must have had 20+ during the next hour, many posing nicely for images.
Marsh Frit

This was hot fun in the sun and we almost had the place to ourselves, though the odd butterfly pro (check the hat) came along to chat and get the boys autographs.
The Boys sign autographs.

By the time we got back to the car, the boys were getttin' hungry and it was time to take a load off your feet as the buffet was extracted from the boot. Stewart brought out a bar of Dairy Milk so large we used it as a picnic table. Even here the inverts kept coming with Red-necked Footman trapped as we lunched.

We moved on, all stoked up and ready for some Odonata our next target White-faced Darter at a secret location codename Blueberry Hill. Having visited the site before I got ample warning from the boys "Don't go near the water" exceptionally deep, fall in and you'd be gone forever they told me.
 After a tramp through the woods we emerged into a heather filled clearing, we had no sooner reached a small pool surrounded by wet sphagnum moss. I love to see da da darters and we weren't to be disappointed.  Good numbers of Four-spot Chaser and White-faced Darter. We used a couple of bare sun-bleched branches as perches and photographic aids.
Setting Up the perches (Roger's onto his second hat of the day)

All worked a treat and we just filled our boots for the next hour in the sun, it could have been California feeling that hot. The darters remained flighty throughout and a challenge to photograph but I have to praise the others, despite their age and jetlag they stuck to the task.

By now "it's getting late" and I had work so we cruised back over the 69, Stewart  was honking down the highway to ensure I was back for my shift. It's over now and even if I only get to see them just once in my life I won't be getting the summertime blues. I know I'll look back and this will be one of the best things we did last summer.

How's that 18 of the boys songs included in the post, would I do it again, sure I would.

Struggling to Raise My Head

So much going with the good weather, an afternoon on The Farnes yesterday produced some 8Gb of images to work through and a little jaunt chasing Odonata and Lepidoptera just added further to the backlog, so it might be a little while before I can raise my head on here and get some posts in.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Joker in the Pack

After spending much of yesterday afternoon catching up on some NTBC emails and keeping tabs on developments on The Farnes with a boat on standby if events and the stars had aligned (they didn't), I nipped out last night for a few hours evening birding.

Castle Island was Egret-less but a Pale-bellied Brent Goose may well have been a patch tick, I'll need to check. A Little Ringed Plover at the east end was dwarfed by surrounding Shelduck (38) and Mute Swans (100); a drake Goosander lingering around the island too and my first Common Terns at this site this year.

Later I went to stake out a couple of possible Long-eared Owl sites, unsuccessfully from the LEO point of view but I did manage Barn Owl, Lesser Whitethroat, a reeling Grasshopper Warbler and the male Quail still singing from the same field as the previous day, so not a bad evening.
Non-birds involved five Hares in the same field, a Harem?

With the kids off school/nursery I planed a trip to Washington WWT today, conveniently Blackhall Rocks is just a few miles fiurther on and it would have been rude to spurn the opportunity of a quick glance at the splendid drake Surf Scoter. Drakes are just the business, one minute innocently bobbing in the waves with just a white patch on the back of the head to show; flick of the head and there's a duck with a clown mask in the midst of the flock.

At 6-700m offshore it was never close but close enough to appreciate a smart duck, clearly bringing some much needed colour to Blackhall ( having worked in Peterlee for five years I'm not a big fan of the place). So no photos from me but below is a borrowed shot from the flickr album of Chuq Von Rospach  who took this one on Shoreline Lake in California and kindly allows it to be used for non-commercial purposes by people like me.