Monday, September 22, 2014

It might just be Fea's-ible....

A sketch from some scribbles taken on the spot. A long thin winged bird, the white arm pits giving a spiky appearance. Some white was in the dark primary bases too but distance was too great for detail. Its my impression anyway...

How many more puns can there be on this tremendous bird?

After a quiet days birding, all the drift migrants have cleared off along with the easterly, a cool north westerly was bound to bring some seabirds. This year has been slow for seawatching and until this morning I was still waiting for my first Sooty of 2014, so we started off down at Craster where Sooty Shearwaters duly obliged, along with Arctic Skua and a few Manx Shearwaters and Red throated Divers. As is the way in the north east, morning seawatches can be ruined by glare on the sea, so when the cloud moved, so did we.

Later, I heard that a Fea's Petrel had been seen off Flamborough and Filey this morning, but never gave it much thought. Steph McElwee rang to discuss timings up to Newbiggin, but I just thought that was too fanciful to contemplate.

Fast forward a couple of hours and Gary Woodburn was on the phone recruiting extra eyes up at Beadnell on the off chance. His positivity was infectious and the twitchy-ness began.

I arrived at Beadnell at 3pm, met Gary and headed off the the point, a spot I have never been to previously. We were soon joined by Barry another local.

Lots of birds were moving, but the sun was bright and the sea blue, merging into a hazy sky. Fortunately, some birds were very close. On arrival we got a strategy in place. I always like to set the boundaries before starting off a venture like this, because it would be a disaster if one saw the bird and the rest dipped. We pin pointed visible lobster pot bouys in the mid distance, pink, green and yellow, so they could act as markers for a rapidly moving pterodroma...

The conversation changed to predicting arrival times, and Gary said, about 5.20pm should do it, but it might be 'fashionably late'.

Tension mounted at 5pm as we knuckled down. Eyes screwed into scopes grabbing at every fly by. We had 20 odd Sooties and Manxies and a few Brent Geese for good measure, when Gary said...

'Oh, wait, I think I've got it...' ' Oh it might just be a Manx'....It was 5.25pm.

Now his tone wasn't 'manx-like' to me so I said that he should let us worry about miss-identifications and keep talking. He then said 'Yes thats it...Fea's, above the green bouy!!'

Everything goes into slow motion as you dread being the dipper in this situation but no, after a few seconds without breathing, there it was! Excalibur! A Gon-gon, a Soft-plumaged Petrel, a Fea's! I thought I was the only birder in Northumberland who had never seen one of these, so the relief was amazing. The spiky, unusually shaped black and white petrel swayed and switch-backed past us at mid distance for about 4 or 5 minutes before being lost from view...Get In! What a bird...

Northumberland 333.



    

Saturday, September 20, 2014

It'll be all white on the night...



Last night I was out checking the moth trap and found this little chap, a bit out of sorts, loitering about the garden. At first I wondered what was the matter with it, but then I realised it was an albino!

It has pink eyes, bare parts, the lot and, what I have not noticed on normal Hedgehogs before, some thin longer spines that stick through the normal ones like cocktail sticks. It was sporting a fully fed Castor Bean Tick near its ear and seemed a bit sluggish, so we took it into care.

It was placed in a box with hay and a hot water bottle with a dish of catfood over night. This morning the food had all gone, so things look well. We duly delivered him to Carole Catchpole's Hedgehog Rescue Centre at Longframlington to be taken care of for a while before release.

She told us he was a male and just looked to be about a year old. We spend a lot of time, both day and night in the garden looking at wildlife and have never seen this individual before. It just shows, you never know what you might come upon unexpectedly...

 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Silence of the Lambs...

Death's Head Hawk-moth caterpillar.
 Yesterday, Jane's sister, Victoria sent me a text with a photo of this caterpillar saying she had found it walking across the path, near her home in Northampton, and was it dangerous. As soon as I saw it, I got a tad excitable - its a Death's Head Hawk-moth caterpillar like the moths of Hannibal Lecter fame in Silence of the lambs!

Straight away, I gave her instructions on how to post the creature to me immediately as we must have a go at rearing it to adult hood. The moth is the Holy Grail of moth trappers in the UK and this chance might never come again. Next day, before 9am delivery cost a whopping £25 but to see this monster was well worth it. What a belter!

It was placed in a tank with some Privet and Potato tops to feed on but it just wanted to wander around the edge. This must mean that feeding time was over, it was a big lad after all, and its time to get underground to pupate.

After consulting various internet sources and with help from Alan Fairclough, I gathered some nice molehill soil, gave it a blast in the microwave to clear off any undesirables and laid it in the tank so it could bury itself away for a month or so. We didn't think it would go in so quickly! The whole vanishing act took no more than 10 minutes.

All we have to do now is keep the tank at a nice 25 degrees for a month and hopefully the adult will emerge. I'll never sleep!







Wednesday, September 17, 2014

A bird in the bush is worth two in the hand...





Greenish Warbler, Chare Ends, Holy Island.
I took a flexi day on Tuesday after the rain, fog and easterlies yesterday to try and catch up with or, better still find, some of the scarce migrants that have littered our coastline. St Mary's fared well yesterday, and Holy Island had some good birds, so what was in between?

I started off at 7.30 this morning at Craster. I yomped over the heughs and the Arnold Reserve. It all started well with a good scattering of Blackcaps, Whitethroats and Chiffchaffs with a single Willow Warbler, but scarceties remained just that. Scarce.  Two Redwings were very early and were probably the highlight here.

So, off up to Low Newton, where I met Gary who was ringing on site. Migrants were very thin on the ground here, so a check of the Tin Church area and the Pool Willows was largely fruitless.

Next stop Holy Island. I got on to the island at about 12 noon and have never seen so many tourists here. Robson Green has a lot to answer for... 11 coaches were in the top car park and the main car park was almost over flowing. The village was like the Metro Centre!   

Despite this, plenty of migrants were on offer, and with the sun beginning to shine the day was looking up. The very first bird I came across was a Barred Warbler in a willow at the Chare Ends watched by a small gathering of Greenish twitchers, it was typically shy, but could be followed as it thrashed the thin branches around. A lovely bird, but too distant and flighty to get a single pic.

The Vicars Garden had Pied Flycatchers, a Spotted Flycatcher, loads of Willow Warblers ( some singing) and Chiffchaffs. I missed a Yellow browed Warbler present here earlier. On route I also had Wheatear, Redstarts and Tree Pipit.

Back at the Chare Ends and the Greenish Warbler, now in its third day, was showing beautifully in the afternoon sunshine to only two or three birders.

After the long day I was on my way home when Gary rang to say he had caught the two Red breasted Flycatchers together. I had a bit of time while he cleared nets and processed birds so arrived just in time to assist him with a photo, after all you cant hold two rarities and take the photo, can you!

What an end to a great day away from work...  


Me posing two Red breasted Flycatchers for a photo. They flew off strongly non the worse for their brief interruption.

And another of a Red breatsed Flycatcher. Both pics thanks to Gary Woodburn.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Turn your back for five minutes...

I've been birding with JWR now for over 25 years. He has his own way of doing things. One thing that anyone can notice is that he is very sharp when getting on to birds that have gone missing for a while, or picking something out miles away when others are standing navel gazing. One thing I've learned over the years is to be aware of where he is when he wanders off as is his want on most weekends, just in case he gets his eye in...

Today was such a day, but more of that later...

First thing and an overcast grey sky with a light easterly can only mean one thing - a trip to Holy Island for migrants. As the crossing didnt open until 10am, we checked a few wader sites on our way north, seeing nothing but a few 'padders' - Several Ruff and Greenshank, Spotted Redshank and Black tailed Godwit.

We crossed over to the island, flanked along a good stretch of the causeway by a male Wheatear flying alongside the car. Masses of birds were on the flats with several hundred Bar tailed Godwit, Golden Plover and Pale bellied Brent Geese.

We parked on the strand line just before the island proper and followed the track around the Chare Ends towards the Lonnens. All was quiet. We bumped into 'the butcher' coming out of the straight lonnen willows. He told us of a Red backed Shrike across at the lough and a scattering of common migrants that looked promising. In the willows were male and female Redstart, Pied Flycatcher, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff. 





A Stoat dashed around the track ahead of us.

We gradually made our way, anti-clockwise, around the lonnens towards the lough but we dipped miserably on the shrike. A Whinchat was little compensation. Back along the wall, our first Merlin of the autumn sat watching a family group of three Kestrels together squabble around the fields.

Time was pressing on now and we started to wind down heading back to the car and off home.

Back at the Chare Ends, we split up, John followed the west side of the bund, and I took the east. Remember what I said earlier? I am now looking for migrants and, with a, not insignificant, sense of paranoia, keeping an ear out for John finding something just out of eyesight. A second Whinchat was all I could muster on the route.


I now cut across the dune, back to his car and when I got there, there was no sign of its owner? Where is he now? I pondered and checked my phone for messages, then heard a faint whistle from somewhere out of sight. I blanked it. Then it came again, it wasn't a pipit, it sounded human. What is he doing I thought, then decided I better just go and see if it is John trying to attract my attention. I deftly leapt the barbed wire [?] narrowly avoiding being a shrike larder, and strolled up a high piece of dune.

There was John on the other side, crouched under a hawthorn, armed with his camera, pointing upwards.  'Psst,' I spat to get attention. He looked up and indicated on his upper arm, that what ever was in there had  a wing bar! It could only be one of the striped phylloscs surely, so I stalked down to be told in hushed tone, 'Greenish'...

I was worried in case it flew out of the lone bush before I saw it, but some soft 'pishing' brought the Greenish Warbler out to the front for a brief time before it flickered over to the next shrub. Superb! We watched it for no more than 15 minutes then put the word out to other birders on the island, then we had to make an exit for home...

Now maybe you can see that it is best to keep an eye on your mate if he is out of sight...





Greenish Warbler


Monday, September 08, 2014

The Wryneck.

I suppose all birders have a favourite. It might be one of the glamorous species, like a Bee-eater or it could be impressive and exciting like an Eagle, but for me only one species ticks all the boxes.

Its the Wryneck.

'But its just grey and brown' you might say, but whilst it does have a subtle beauty in its intricately marked plumage, its not just this that attracts me to them. No, its much more than that.

To see or better still, to find your own Wryneck is a pulse pausing moment for any birder.  These exotic, weirdly behaving, ground dwelling woodpeckers come from birding folklore. From a time when there were many more individual birds around in the countryside than there are today, a time before the industrial revolution when insects and old woodland, scrub and hedgerows covered the land.

Looking at old books and reports, any one watching birds from times past up until the 40s or 50s maybe could just about expect to come across a Wryneck or two on the coast during a walk out in August and September. For those living in the south east of England, the breeding song of the Wryneck rang out from old stunted and gnarled orchards, while Red backed Shrikes haunted the dog rose, and cuckoos, turtle doves and corncrakes were just typical farmland birds.

This morning I popped down to Hadston to pay my respects to such a character. As the sun peeked out and began to warm the scrub near the boat compound, the Wryneck crept around in a reptilian manner on some old timber and discarded tree stumps, hunting for insects. It was a little flighty at first but soon settled down in front of a handful of admirers to feed and sun bathe in the open.

Time flies when you watch a Wryneck with the warmth of a low sun on you and a breeze through the grass. Your mind can drift to imagining what it would have been like in the old days when this would have been an everyday sighting...

That is why the Wryneck is not just something to 'hit and run' for a year tick, its something to savour and enjoy. Something to think on, to dwell in our thoughts.  It is part of our birding heritage and long may its presence continue to grace our shores...

So, here it is, the Wryneck, Jynx torquilla, for me, there is no finer bird...



Sunday, September 07, 2014

Early September...

If only this Lesser Whitethroat had looked at me for long enough...
Blackcap
With drift migrants scattered along our coast, I thought a couple of sessions at Craster wouldn't go amiss. This site used to get quite a bit of coverage, but these days it scarcely gets a look at. During good falls it is as good as anywhere with the rocky scrub covered ridge providing immediate cover for tired migrants 'in-off'. 

In recent years I have had Raddes, Barred, Icterine and Yellow browed Warblers here, but despite a nice sprinkle of local movers there was to be no cherry on the top this time. 

Yesterday in a couple of hours I had 11+ Blackcaps tacking from every elder bush, my first Garden Warbler of the year, 6+ Whitethroats, 7+ Chiffchaff, 1 Willow Warbler, 3+ Goldcrest, 5+ Song Thrush, Willow Tit, 3 juv Bullfinch and a Sparrowhawk.

At sea, half an hour early on had 13 Pale bellied Brent Geese, 2 Bonxie, 2 Arctic Skua, 69 Manx Shearwater, 1 Wigeon and a light passage south of Meadow Pipits, Pied Wagtails and one or two Yellow Wagtails.

Today was much quieter. The wind had swung northwesterly and a bright clear starry sky over night had allowed our visitors to continue on their way.

When Dave Elliot had found a Wryneck at Hadston first thing this morning I was fired up to check areas at Craster that I hadn't yesterday, particularly those that looked like they would attract a twisty naped ant eater. My luck was out, and the only bird of note was a Lesser Whitethroat that failed to perform for the camera. Other than that there was 1 Blackcap, 3 Whitethroat, 5 Chiffchaff, 7+ Yellowhammer and 3 Reed Buntings.

With a couple or three days off this week, lets hope for some 'better' weather...


Chiffchaff
Not to be outdone, the moth trap turned up a big dark Butterbur moth ( not the plant obviously). A scarce species this, and not regularly attracted to light, but I get one or two most years here...

Butterbur, right, showing size and colour comparison with the much commoner Rosy Rustic.
Bulrush Wainscot