Wednesday, 30 April 2014

30th April - Duck Find

I managed to reach a point where I'd done enough of the outstanding tasks that I'd set myself this morning to take an hour out around lunchtime. Having already managed to saturate one pair of boots on the morning dog walk between home and Longhirst (singing Yellowhammer and three Common Whitethroats) I was keen to avoid further dampness so opted for the Spital end of Newbiggin where I could mostly keep to paths.

A very quiet hour with no obvious migrants lots of birds, mainly Linnets, Goldfinches and the odd Pied Wagtail.

On the way home I made a brief but productive stop near Ashington and found a pair of Garganey feeding actively, my first of the year and a new addition to the '10km from home list'.

Tuesday, 29 April 2014

22nd April - 29th April

Incredibly quiet this morning, recent arrivals including the singing Whitethroat, reeling Grasshopper Warbler remain. The only new addition was a single House Martin hawking above the railway line and church pool with Swallows and Sand Martin.

Down at the Spital migrants were even thinner on the ground, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, two Swallows and a single Meadow Pipit dropped in briefly before continuing north, though I did find a new wall that looks perfect for Wryneck....

Post-work hour late afternoon a female Ring Ouzel flushed from the burnt gorse to the ash lagoon banks. At the Church Pool a good arrival of hirundines gave me the opportunity to prove to myself once again that I shouldn't attempt flight shots.

29th- Blyth Cemetery this morning held five Wheatears. Back at Newbiggin SMc had had a couple of Lesser Whitethroats early doors and at least one was still about early afternoon. The sound of someone playing a trumpet badly came out of the fog and what was probably a Common Crane flew over north unseen in the thick mist. Two Sparrowhawks, a big female ripping through the golf course like Vera on steroids and later a male, a male Stonechat in the north dunes along with a couple of male Common Whitethroats on territory were the only other birds of note.

Monday, 21 April 2014

21st April

I was pleased I made the effort of an early-ish morning sea-watch this morning with four new species for the year in an hour and a half that was packed with activity including the first Puffin passage of the Spring, a strong movement of Razorbills and first at 07:05 the jagged black velvet of a dark morph Arctic Skua cutting across the waves just 50m offshore then a few minutes later a menacingly low Great Skua moving north further out.

Connecting with skuas in the Spring can be tricky and I've had years where it's been summer before I have caught up with either of the two commoner species so I was pleased to get both in a single morning.

Later in the day a Grasshopper Warbler reeled briefly east of Woodhorn Flashes and I had a second sea-watch session for an hour late afternoon that was less productive. Full details below:

Razorbill 162 > N
Gannet 31> N
Manx Shearwater 1> N
Sandwich Tern 16> N
Puffin 39 > N
Red-throated Diver 4 > N
Red-breasted Merganser 2 > N
Arctic Skua 1 dark morph > N (07:05)
Great Skua 1 > N (07:13)
Common Scoter 7 > N
Shelduck 4 > N
Arctic Tern 2 > N

Sandwich Tern 29 > N
Tufted Duck 2 > S
Red-breasted Merganser 1 > N
Razorbill 1 > N
Puffin 2 > N

Purple Sandpiper 15 present; Red-throated Diver 3 on sea.

Friday, 18 April 2014

18th April - The Ultimate Record Shot

'Record shot' it's an overused and much maligned term these days. It gets bandied about for images that clearly are anything but record shots. Does anyone seriously expect you to believe that a 1D, 500mm (or bigger) lens and a hide are ever going to produce a record shot worthy of the name? And don't get me started on bridge cameras, capturing perfect detail from a different county to the subject does not a record shot make. It's false modesty in many instances, thinly veiled to lure praise and clicks from across the ether.

True record shots take skills developed over decades, they capture essence not sharp detail, they flirt with your imagination, fill you with the possibility of what on another day may have been. They are the birding equivalent of Banksy's, moments of genius reflecting on our soundbite, point and click birding culture. Most go straight to the great trash bin in the sky, unappreciated, destined never to see the light and soar like the birds they hint at.

This morning after rolling off three patch year ticks in quick succession, Sedge Warbler followed by Blackcap seasoned with Common Whitethroat, I stepped forward and embraced my destiny. As the magnificence of a male Redstart flicked silently across my path it was like a slow motion movie, a somersault roll onto knees, the sun glinting in my eye like a ninja in the desert, I squeezed the trigger. The results speak for themselves, I humbly offer you a record shot.

Later with many singing Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers I took some photos.

Sunday, 13 April 2014


It stands for Birders Against Wildlife Crime. Years worth of pent-up frustration at dead raptor after dead raptor, nests being robbed of eggs, Hen Harriers almost disappearing as an English breeding species, finch-trapping activities still happening here in Britain. Finally a small group of us came together to try and find a way to stop being  just frustrated and make a difference.

Thousands of us spend time out in the countryside every week, recognising wildlife crime can be difficult, knowing what to record and who to report it to just as tricky. Hopefully the initiative that we're starting will help all of us who care about wildlife and want to see an end to the illegal activities that wreak so much damage on so many species be a little more vigilant and armed with a helpful resource to pint us to the people that can help.

Please bookmark the site, it is still in development and we hope that there will be much more to come in the weeks and months ahead. We have big plans for Hen Harrier Day 2014 and other campaigns to follow, you can check it all out at

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

8th April - Moths, Moors and More

It's almost a family tradition that the arrival of the Easter Holidays means a first trip to the hills and valleys on the east side of the Cheviots. They are generally quieter than during the summer months, certainly quieter than the memories that always come to mind of childhood Sundays spent climbing, splashing, exploring, often through bracken as tall as I was. My dad was always telling me there was Adders, I think we may have seen one or two but only briefly and it wasn't till much later that I had great views of these amazing snakes. The thought of a 'poisonous' snake always added adrenalin to any adventure up there and today was no different, all three of my own kids managing good views of two that I found in a south-facing hedge alongside one of the minor roads east of the Cheviots.

Afterward we headed deeper into the hills to look for Ring Ouzels managing distant views of three feeding across one of the steep-sided, tumbling burn-filled, narrow valleys. The kids were more impressed with several Red Grouse calling and hurtling across the valley to pitch into the heather nearby before exploding out again and away.

Earlier this morning the moth trap produced a few new moths for the year including Double-striped Pug, Clouded Drab and a couple of Early Thorns.

Sunday, 6 April 2014

5th April - Bird Food

Any chance of birding early morning was lost in the stupidity of leaving some of the kids things behind at a party in Morpeth yesterday evening necessitating an early morning recovery ahead of football. To make matters worse Morpeth was closed off filled with lycra-clad beanpoles being sporty so i had to fight my way through barriers and taped off streets to get to the leisure centre.
The saving grace was a modest collection of moths in the mkIII trap overnight, nothing exciting and I suspect I may need to upgrade my bulb/electrics to get anywhere near the sort of catches I caught with the trap loaned by Tom Tams two years back. As ever happy to have id's corrected by more experienced.

(Small Quaker)
March Moth
Shoulder Stripe

Saturday, 5 April 2014

5th April - Horizon

With the mist lifted and family plans ruling the main daylight hours the only option for some birding was an early morning patch visit. A splendid sunrise and good visibility raised hopes of some interest. In the event the sea was quiet with little volume though a few individual sightings stood out. New for the year were three Goosander that headed out north-east (two drakes and a female) and three Sandwich Terns moved north. A single drake Long-tailed Duck flew south and then (presumably the same individual) flew north again a few minutes later.

Post sea-watch I headed to the Spital Burn area for a brief migrant search resulting in a singing Willow Warbler in willows from the private access road.

Church Point (06:45-07:45)

Common Scoter 5 >N
Goosander 3>NE
Sand Martin 5>S
Long-tailed Duck drake >S then >N
Jackdaw 3 flew out to sea >NE
Sandwich Tern 3>N
Gannet 4>N (all adults)
Red-throated Diver 3>N 1>S
Fulmar 10>N

Thursday, 3 April 2014

3rd April - Century

I used the rain early morning to finish a little work for Birdwatch magazine before heading out into another murky grey day around late morning. In the Woodhorn hedge a lone Chiffchaff was feeding low dropping into vegetation just above ground level in the cold, damp breeze. Four Redwings caught my eye as they flew from treetop to treetop calling leaving behind a single thrush in the tree by the foot-bridge, a patch year tick Fieldfare that subsequently dropped over the west hedge into the rape field.

The south pool was quiet, no doubt the presence of the regular Harris Hawk flyer standing in the marsh didn't help. He took off, perhaps after seeing me and didn't fly the bird as he walked around the the pond edge flushing all the Gadwall out of the rape field onto the pond.

Back to the car I headed for Church Point and walked north on a very quiet north beach. About halfway a single solitary Sand Martin slipped south, the hundreth species for Newbiggin this year for me. I raised my camera to acknowledge the loud calls of congratulations from the nearby Herring Gulls.

Last chance saloon at the Spital end for some migrants, three Wheatears in the horse paddocks were as good as it got. Lots of Linnets about and several Fulmars making dummy runs at the cliffs. Talking a couple of weeks ago with Tom C and Stewart S we were speculating that most of the Fulmars appearing at these non-breeding cliffs were individuals yet to reach breeding age. interesting to note on the ringed individual photographed this afternoon a number of brown coverts, suggestive of immaturity?

 A walk back up the Spital road produced the second Grey Wagtail in two days this one flushed from the horse paddock at the west end then again from the sewage works as I walked back. In the sewage works shelter belt several Goldcrests calling and feeding actively.

I stopped at the big turbine field east of Linton and counted 14 Shelduck, eight by the small flash beside the road and a further six a bit further west in the field.

Wednesday, 2 April 2014

2nd April - winter reprise

It certainly felt like winter was back as I donned wellies in the Woodhorn church car park this morning. The overnight damp, fretty mist that had enveloped all and produced only a single Hebrew Character in the moth trap was cold and held bleak prospects, or so I thought.

Within three minutes the first of three new birds for the year, a Great Spotted Woodpecker atop the trees just north of the railway bridge, was in the app. A couple of Goldcrests were active in the hedge and a Chiffchaff was singing along the garden edge.

On the church pool at first glance it was groundhog day, a few Canada Geese pottered around the northern end including one at the dark end of canadensis.  A look back from higher up the path revealed a splash of yellow on the rocks on the west shore, thinking 'early yellow wag' I dropped back down toward the pond as a Grey Wagtail flew up and off north. Chuffed as I thought it would be winter before I had another chance of picking up this species on patch, I think this is only my second spring record at Woodhorn, both on the same pool.

Over the railway line the wintering Greylag flock was in the 'Short-toed Lark Field' along with a single Pink-footed Goose and the three adult Greenland White-fronted Geese. 

 Another Goldcrest in the hedge down to the iron bridge and the first of several Snipe flushed as I crossed the bridge. Another Chiffchaff singing from one of the new plantations then a couple of thrushes dropped in to the easternmost plantation. Not sure if they wee Song Thrushes or Redwing I walked around and sure enough three Redwings, better still as I was stood two Lesser Redpolls flew over calling and pitched in too providing patch tick numero trez for the morning.

A couple of Wheatears had arrived back in the new horse paddock on the way back and back in the field beside the Woodhorn hedge I could hear a Tree Sparrow singing which was a bit of a bonus as this is only the third patch record I've had of this species, second this year, and first singing bird.

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Fool's Day

The rain that started late last night and forced me to bring in my mkIII moth trap due to the lack of a rain cover was a little heavier this morning so I opted for some food shopping to get it out of the way ahead of a hoped for late morning easing of the wet stuff.

Two Hebrew Characters and a Common Quaker were the potted contents sat waiting in the fridge and didn't occupy me for long.

Church Point to Lynemouth Power Station and back with a little dilly-dallying on the way. Outbound two Wheatears looking a tad damp though fly-catching from the rocks in the north bay as temperatures soared into balmy double figures.

Lots of song-flighting Meadow Pipits along the beach path but little else of interest. A good check of the power station compound produced next to nothing other than a few Jackdaws and skemmies. Several singing Skylarks in the north dunes and over the moor, occasionally chasing off any nearby Meadow Pipits.

On the walk back the Wheatear count had doubled to four and I stumbled on a young Harbour Porpoise corpse being picked over by a couple of crows that I'd managed to miss on the way out. Not sure whether these marks on the side were as a result of the crows bills or the general scratches that cetaceans often carry, I'll spare you the full corpse shot.

Rather warmer by the time I got back to the car I checked both Woodhorn pools but a single Pochard on the church pool was the only obvious difference to the recent line-up. A stop at Bothal Pond on the homeward journey produced three Sand Martins, first of the year and a nudge forward for the 10k from home list.

Extra time tonight with the dog +1 added an adult Whooper Swan and five Sand Martins at QEII Country Park and two Mediterranean Gulls on the sea at the Spital outfall.