Sunday, 19 January 2020

Surreal Encounter While Birding in the Wind

15th Jan.  Strong winds didn’t prevent Sam and I heading for Low Newton and on the way we had Kestrel hovering and several Common Buzzards.  As we walked down from the carpark towards the sea the wind wasn’t too bad.  Following us down the bank were a group of folks who Sam reckoned were Jehovah Witnesses.  Don’t even ask how he knew.  At about the same time as this group of folks were spotted I got my eye on movement at the foot of a low wall and this turned out to be a feeding Chiffchaff.  We began to study this bird closely.  As we were intently watching I saw a lady approaching us and wondered if it was someone from the house wondering if we were measuring up the joint.  We thought we might have a Siberian Chiffchaff here, so what I wanted in my hand really was a Collins Bird Guide, but instead I found in it a leaflet referring amongst other things to Revelations Chapter 21 Verse 4  (I checked this later and not as I was watching the warbler).  Sam had been correct and the lady introduced herself as a Jehovah Witness and clearly had a certain discussion in mind.  We kept watching the warbler as I gave the lady the rundown on Chiffchaffs and in particular Siberian Chiffchaffs.  It must be said the lady did not appear that interested but we kept watching and I kept talking.  On reflection the situation seemed surreal and it is a first for me, that is, trying to identify the subspecies of Chiffchaff whilst being approached by a Jehovah Witness.  The lady may have become bored as she gave up on her plans and said goodbye, hopefully leaving with a better knowledge of Chiffchaffs.

We think a Siberian Chiffchaff.  (any comment welcomed)
Image courtesy of Samuel Hood 

Although we heard no call we do think this was a Siberian Chiffchaff, it certainly seemed to fit the description, and yes I know its difficult to know without hearing a call.  We later found a record of Siberian Chiffchaff had been recorded in the book at the hide.
A hide with a view

The sea was to say the least choppy, so sea watching wasn’t going to be on the agenda although we saw a few waders before walking to the hide.  The fields held Whooper and Mute Swans and also Pink footed Geese and Greylag Geese.  Whilst the pond was almost clear of birds because of the wind we did find Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck and Goldeneye and bumped into the Jehovah Witness again, whose only word was goodbye.  As we sat in the hide the wind got rougher.  In the distance a Brown Hare was hunkered down in the wind, looking very much like a large stone.
Our next stop was Seaton Point on the look out for Water Pipit.  My advice for searchers of Water Pipit is ‘pick a calmer day’!  I ended up buffeted, cold and cream crackered.  I possibly did see Water Pipit as I watched Meadow Pipits and Rock Pipits, but not well enough to confirm.  Nice Purple Sandpiper though and lots of Turnstones.  I was weary and lunch was required so we stopped off at Warkworth and went to the pub before heading to Cresswell.

As we approached Cresswell the Little Owl was seen in one of its regular sites at Druridge.

We ended the day nicely in the hide at Cresswell watching flocks of waders, in the main Lapwing, Dunlin, Redshank, and Curlew although a lone Black tailed Godwit was seen too.  We returned home wind blasted but unbeaten.

17th Jan.  Today was a calm after the storm and it was nice to hear the Song Thrush singing in or close to the garden.  A pair of Bullfinch visited the feeder too, my first Bullfinch of 2020.  Stunning birds seen in wonderful light.
In the evening Sam and I and two friends met for a meal before attending the talk on Bumble Bees at the NHSN.  Good grief we could barely get a seat.  The lecture room filled to overflowing and a good number of people were sat in an adjoining room to listen.  The society seems to go from strength to strength in terms of numbers attending.

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Another Fine Day You Gotten Me Into

3rd Jan.  A skein of Pink footed Geese was seen soon after leaving home.  Kestrel and Common Buzzards were seen as we approached Budle Bay on another fine day with a clear sky and sun.  On arrival we found whistling Wigeon in numbers along with Teal and a high tide which we were able to watch as it receded at a fast rate, giving the bay an entirely different appearance.    Surprisingly these days we saw no Little Egrets but there were numbers of Brent Geese and Pink footed Geese in the field to the north.  Two Whooper Swans approached from across the bay and flew directly over our heads and a Peregrine Falcon was mobbed in the distance to the south as it flew inland.  Other new birds for the year list included Shelduck, Oystercatcher, Grey Plover, Ringed Plover, Dunlin, Curlew, Bar tailed Godwits and a Meadow Pipit.   Standing out of direct sunlight we eventually become quite chilled and eventually moved on to Bamburgh and Stag Rock.

Samuel on watch

Although the sea was quite flat off Stag Rock we were not alone among birdwatchers who were not having much luck sea watching.  Initially only a pair of Common Scoter were seen flying northwards, a few Red Throated Divers, Shag and Eider Duck.  Moving our position a little northward, we soon picked up a sizable raft of Common Scoters which included with them Red Breasted Mergansers and nearby, more Red Throated Divers.  The first of several Stonechat were seen on the dunes and there were large numbers of Purple Sandpiper and Turnstone feeding on the rocky shoreline.

Budle Bay

We ticked off Long Tailed Duck as we passed Monk’s Pond where we didn’t hang around long as lunch was calling.  Fish and chips at Seahouses of course.  Quenched and warmer we decided to make off for East Chevington.  The high lights on North Pool was a Great Northern Diver showing well at the north end of the pool and an Otter as it actively fed in the centre of the pool.  A good one to begin the year’s mammal list.  The likes of Pintail, Goldeneye and Little Grebe were also seen, the latter new for the list.  We chatted to some friendly fellow birders and we all had a good distant view of the Marsh Harrier perched on a post south of South Pool.

A stop at Widdrington gave nice sightings of Smew and Scaup before we moved off to Cresswell, spotting a Brown Hare running along close by the car.  Time at Cresswell was short, although we did find another Long-tailed Duck.  The short days meant that light had faded away by the time we reached Blyth so still no luck with Waxwing, but we’ve made the most of two grand days at the start of 2020.  So yes, another fine day with at least sixty-two species, thirty of them new for the year list.

Thursday, 2 January 2020

A New Year and Decade Dawns

31st Dec 2019.  A failure to find the Waxwings in Whitley Bay found by Sam yesterday sent us off to Holywell on a bitterly cold afternoon (perhaps having been spoilt by warmth lately) with the light already fading.  The short visit was far from wasted as we watched numerous skeins of Pink footed Geese fly westwards and away from the coastal area, some Greylag Geese among the skeins.  The sky was clear blue as the geese called and painted shapes above and to the south of us.  A true picture of winter birding.  A Kestrel hovered above the hedge that skirts the pathway that separates the open farmland from the reserve, a usual hunting area for this species.  Folk in the hide were puzzled by a hybrid duck which appeared to be a cross between Gadwall and probably Mallard.  We enjoyed a chat with a guy who had attended a walk at Killingworth we had organised three years ago.  The highlight of the visit was the Kingfisher that perched on the wooden rails that run into the pond.  The tones of blue of this bird showed wonderfully in the dim lighting conditions and the bird was still there when we eventually left to return home.  It had entertained us as it battered a fish on the wooden fence before swallowing it.  You don’t necessarily need good light to appreciate birds and see them at their best.  We decided to give the Short-Eared Owls a miss and perhaps revisit next year i.e. tomorrow.  There seemed to be a suggestion of a couple of photographers behaving badly.  I remembered the evenings Sam and I spent alone at Holywell a few years ago watching Short Eared Owls, great stuff.  Alas I don’t think we’ll have that opportunity this year with so many folks about.  As we left only a few tits continued to visit the feeding station and the ground remained solid in the strikingly cold air.  We left looking forward to a new day and a new year.

And many a mingld swathy crowd
Rook crow and jackdaw noising loud
Fly to and fro to dreary fen
Dull winters weary flight agen
Flopping on heavy wings away
As soon as morning wakens grey
And when the sun sets round and red
Returns to naked woods to bed
John Clare (January/The Shepherds Calendar)

1st Jan 2020.  I awoke to clear blue skies and after a quick breakfast fed and watched the garden birds which included Song Thrush, now a regular winter visitor once again and a pair of Coal Tits, a species that has visited for as long as I have lived here.  I counted thirteen species in the garden before Sam arrived to begin our New Year walk on patch.

We walked towards the lake via the village church grounds, facing an almost blinding sun and the bitter cold.  I noticed some very complicated patterns made by the ice on some cars we passed.  All seemed quiet nearby the church until Sam picked up calling, and we got our eyes on a pair of Nuthatch.  The other bird of note here was a low gliding female Sparrowhawk that went by us giving a good sighting.  I had been thinking that it was a good day to keep an eye open for Sparrowhawks, although I had expected to see one high in the clear air.  So, we were off to a good start.  Goldfinch was also seen, one of the few finches seen today.


The smaller lake was still thinly frozen over in parts.  The most significant species here was the Gadwall.  I say significant because until the past year or two this species was rarely if ever seen on the lake.  Sam had recently counted almost thirty and today there was almost twenty.  This is a species where numbers have grown locally a good deal over recent years and we assumed the lake is taking overspill from perhaps the Rising Sun CP.  A beautiful species in our opinion, yet possibly passed over by so many.  Of equal significance to the number of Gadwall was the complete absence of Goosander.  I don’t remember a time when I have not seen Goosander on the lake in winter.  The larger of the lakes held its usual species including a good number of Pochard, Shoveler and Goldeneye.  A lone Greylag Goose was found amongst the Canada Geese and a Pied Wagtail was at the edge of the lake.  Great Spotted Woodpecker was heard and a number of Long tailed Tits were seen.   The lake was fairly quiet.  On our return towards the village we did find the Grey Heron standing in the reeds by the Sports Centre.

The day was a perfect beginning to the year, clear blue skies and the sun illuminating the lake.  I was beginning to feel quite warm as we reflected upon how even very common species can excite as they are entered onto the new year list.  There is of course no reason why common species should not excite and those who take note of them are the true naturalists in my opinion.  The area around the back of the village was quiet but offered up the likes of a lone Redwing, Greenfinch and Wrens.  As usual there was no shortage of Magpies.  The Rooks had gathered at the rookery.  I remembered taking a great interest in this rookery in the 1970s when it held far more nests.  We now stopped for lunch at home, hot dogs (lots of fried onion on mine), crisps, biscuits and a cup of tea.  We know how to live well!

Once we had pulled ourselves away from the banquet fully sated, Sam drove to Holywell as we had planned yesterday.  We didn’t intend this as a long walk today, but we did want to catch sight of the Short-Eared Owls if at all possible.

Tree Sparrow was seen at the feeding station where most of the feeders were empty before we moved to the public hide.  We added Wigeon and Teal to the list and had a chat with a very friendly couple.  A male Goosander was also seen so ensuring that it would appear as usual on the New Year’s Day list.  As we walked towards owl country we found two Redshank on the edge of the flash in east field.

A Short-Eared Owl was spotted briefly as we approached a good viewing site.  Thankfully my thoughts that there would be lots of folks about with long lenses etc proved to be wrong.  There were only two or three quiet photographers dotted about the area.  We soon had good sightings of the Short-Eared Owls, six of them eventually.  At one point there were six Short Eared Owls, two Kestrels and a Common Buzzard in the air together as behind them a small flock of Lapwing flew northwards.  It was quite a sight and a brilliant way to begin the year.  One or two of the Short-Eared Owls approached more closely.  Sam heard a vole in the grass beside us.  This little episode had to be the highlight of an excellent day and I was so pleased we had skipped the crowd of yesterday and visited today instead.  Passers-by were taking a positive interest and asked once or twice what we were watching.

After we had seen enough and began to feel the cold again we made off in the direction of the car and home.  We bumped into the friendly couple again who told us they had been watching the Kingfisher on the fencing.  We stopped at the hide and there it was in the same spot as yesterday, the Kingfisher, which again was still there when we left.  A great way to end our day.  We drove home as a huge red sun lowered in the sky and set by the time we reached Killingworth.  I was cream crackered, but had enjoyed our birding.  I later totted up the bird list and found we had fifty-two species on it.  I was more than happy with that, but in any event remembered my motto of 'its quality wot counts’.  A quality day indeed!

Only one stain on the day, the Magpies, the ones that play or attempt to play at St James Park.  What a farce at that club!  Even so, slept well.   

Sunday, 29 December 2019


I have several reasons to use the term Annus Horribilis regarding 2019 and whilst as the Queen has intimated that it has been a bumpy ride this past year, I can only say I’ve met with deep ditches at times.  I’ll refrain from expressing self-pity and going into detail here, as the year has not been without its brighter moments, most of which I owe to good friends and family (they know who they are).

Buttermere in changing light.

Buttermere in Lakeland is one of those special places in my life, I’m sure we all have such feelings about places in our lives, so after a space of some years it was a joy to visit again.  That joy was tinged with some sadness as the reason for the visit was so that we could lay our parent’s ashes in a much-loved area.  It was November and cold, and let me tell you that such a time of year is not a bad time for a visit as it avoids the crowds of tourists that Wordsworth so frowned upon.  I can’t help feeling some sympathy with his views on that one, and heaven only knows what he would think of Lakeland in summer now!  I have also found that I have shared something else in common with Wordsworth that that is, as a child, his awe, verging at times on fear, and wonder at the crags and fells that hovered above him.  I was either nine or ten years old when I first visited Buttermere, electricity was not to arrive in the area until two or three years later.  I well remember my imagination going into overdrive as I looked up to the fells that surrounded me.  It was some years later that I walked atop of many of them.

Cottage (with many tales to tell)


Today the area was seen at its best and as we approached via the Carlisle to Cockermouth Road the grey northern fells were in places lit by shafts of sunlight which showed that even in this dark month there was still plenty of colour and even more, atmosphere.  We were soon at Buttermere and the cottage at the foot of Honister Pass where I celebrated my twenty-first birthday.  Here we met an old friend that I had not seen for over thirty years and as we walked into Wanscale Bottom below Fleetwith Pike and the Haystack range many shared memories were spoken of as to when we used to walk here with my parents on their favourite walk.  It was as if only hours had passed since our last meeting.  My parents ashes now lie in this area and I know that they would have been pleased about that.  Above, on the top of Haystacks were laid the ashes of Alfred Wainwright the well-known compiler of books on Lakeland.  I’m sure many other families have laid ashes of loved ones in this area and in fact there were signs today that that this had occurred recently.  Nature is a great consoler and healer, so I’m pleased to say that we were accompanied by at least three Common Buzzards as they flew overhead throughout our walk.  Their calls sounding haunting in such a vast area.  This area was once frequented by Peregrine Falcons, perhaps still is, and I often regret not taking such an interest in nature when as a young backpacker I trekked these areas.  I didn’t know then that Fleetwith Pike held a colony of Mountain Ringlet Butterflies.  It was in Wanscale Bottom many years ago that I first took an interest in watching Grey Herons.  My brother had told me of them and I seem to remember borrowing binoculars from the farm and spending hours in fascination.  I am still fascinated by Grey Herons, and why not?

Wanscale and the path we took.

Peter, my brother, places tribute.

There was a very light covering of snow on the tops of some fells and as we walked back to the cottage the light began to fade a little but shafts of sunlight still lit the fells at the far end of Buttermere Lake.  We noticed that the Buttermere Pines are looking far from healthy, they stand at the edge of the top of the lake and are often seen in images of the area.  Otherwise, apart from minor changes to gates, fences and paths, the area is much as I remember it from childhood.  A Kestrel hovered at the foot of Fleetwith underneath the white cross to which I first climbed as a nine-year-old boy.  The cross is a reminder that the fells can be deadly as well as beautiful.    There are other reminders of dangers such as piles of stones and carved name of a German girl who lost her life near here in the 1960s, an event I well remember.  My brother went to hospital in the ambulance with her friend who had also been hurt.  We remembered the two Mountain Rescue volunteers who we all knew who were also killed when part of a crag broke lose, again in the 1960s.

Peter used to work on the dry stone walls below the crags.

Then it was back for a late lunch and more memories at the cottage before we said our farewells and made for home in darkness.  I must return soon.

I have eventually purchased a copy of John Buxton's classic monograph on the Redstart and it is to be my end of year read.  Hoping to have it completed by 2020.

Wishing you all peace and good health in the new year and beyond.

Monday, 26 August 2019

Too Darn Hot!

Aug. ‘My’ resident Wood Pigeons having successfully raised a family in the trees at the bottom of the garden have stayed on to enjoy the available seed and bird bath.  On warm days they have sat contentedly in the bath for up to twenty minutes and they were feeling the heat yesterday.

The water looks clean

How many people give Wood Pigeons a second look?  Not many I’m guessing.  Yes, I fear they are taking over the world and are as common as muck, but they aren’t an unattractive bird.

Just checking for those killer cats

Ahh, that's nice and cool

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

More Butterflies

Aug.  I am responding to the calls of 'more, more' from my perhaps limited, but appreciative audience.  So here are a few more images of Butterflies attracted to my garden during what now seem distant days of sun and heat.  The Painted Ladies were not alone in appreciating the Buddleia Plant.  Perhaps it should be made compulsory for everyone with a garden to plant a Buddleia.  'Plant a Buddleia for 2020' would make a good slogan I reckon.  When you do, be choosy as to the colour, as I understand certain colours are more attractive to the butterflies and I think I chose correctly.  Since the rains came I have had fewer butterflies but there is still one Painted Lady visiting the garden.

Red Admiral

The Red Admiral was once known simply as the Admiral and still is in Germany.  In France it is known as Le Vulcain, named after Vulcan the blacksmith of the Gods.  The alternative name for Admiral once used was Admirable and this name was favoured by some, including the novelist Vladimir Nabokov 


Small Tortoiseshell with Painted Lady.  The former being a rarity in the garden this year, with this being the only one seen.

Large White

List of Butterfly Species seen in the garden so far this year, in order of the number of sightings.

Painted Lady
Holly Blue  (remain in flight in the garden today)
Speckled Wood
Large White
Small White
Red Admiral
Peacock (fewer than usual)
Comma (1 only)
Small Tortoiseshell  (1 only and despite the problems this species has had in recent years having found only one is very unusual)

Wednesday, 7 August 2019

Painted Lady Bonanza

Jul/Aug 19.  We begin with a quiz.  Can you name the newspaper responsible for the following headline on the internet?

Rare Painted Lady Butterflies are spotted across the UK for the first time since 2009 as they begin their once in a decade migration.

Yes, yes, you all have it correct.  It is of course the Daily Mail!  Three errors in one sentence implies a teeny-weeny bit of lazy reporting, and I use the term reporting deliberately rather than journalism.  To be fair, the article did include photos of butterflies and surprisingly they were Painted Lady Butterflies.  However, it is little wonder a great many of the population of the UK remain ignorant on the facts of the natural world when we have headlines such as this.  For the record, for anyone not au fait with butterflies, the Painted Lady is not a rare butterfly, it appears in the UK each year (this year just happens to be a bumper one) and it migrates each year.  If you want to know more stay clear of Daily Mail reports!  There is plenty of more reliable information on the internet.

I’m sure many of you have been and still are enjoying the spectacle of the mass influx of Painted Lady Butterflies, the largest influx since 2009.  I believe the previous good year for this species prior to 2009 was 1996.

The Painted Lady Butterflies have been on my Buddleia for over a week now and whilst I don’t claim to have had 125 which reportedly appeared on a bush at St Abbs, nor the swarm that flew over the Farne Islands, I did have 15 of them at one time on a bush along with Large White, Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and Comma.  This of course gave an excellent opportunity for photography and I thought I would share some of my images with you.  I certainly do not recall seeing so many Painted Lady Butterflies in 2009, but I didn’t have the Buddleia then.

When visiting in North Shields I found several more (double figures again) of the species on another Buddleia.  This all gave me the chance to enlighten at least three people regarding the migration of Painted Lady Butterflies from northern Africa.  They didn’t seem as impressed with the feat as I thought they ought to have been.  In the course of another conversation whilst lurking at the Buddleia, I learnt that my neighbour had found a Hawkmoth in her child’s bedroom during the hot weather and I was a bit jealous of that and not having been able to photograph it.  From the way my friend’s hands were held apart I began to wonder if in fact, it had been a juvenile Pterosaur.  The lady’s partner also informed me that his brother is into nature photography, so that was pleasing to hear.  Two days before when temperatures were high and I stood burning near the garden, a swarm of bees flew directly above my head, thankfully not landing on it.  Don’t let anyone tell you that you must be in the countryside to enjoy wildlife and nature as it’s simply not true.

I used my macro lens for the first two images shown here otherwise they were taken with my 100-400mm lens whist attempting some variation to the resulting image.  The underwing of the butterfly is often as interesting to me as the upper-side and if taken with back lighting can often give the impression of stained glass (to my eye anyway) and if you have read my blog over the years you may remember that I have some interest in stained glass windows in particular.

I have a collector’s copy of David Measures Butterfly Season 1984 and initially I didn’t rate the paintings too highly.  However, over the years I have come to appreciate that colour and movement expressed in paintings is as important, if not more so, than the expression of a detailed and  exact depiction of the butterfly.  Perhaps I can use that to explain some of my less than sharp images!

I know there will be many an image of Painted Lady Butterflies about at present, but hope that you enjoy the ones I have added anyway.