Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Goodbye 2013...

I feel obliged to do a 'From the Notebook' Hootenanny style post in the closing minutes of extra time.

Looking back on 2013, I wont bore with endless highs, mainly because I didn't have too many, but here is a short summary of my naturalist year.

The weather was certainly a change on recent years with a dreadfully cold and bleak spring followed by the best summer for ages.

Birding. Well this year has been my poorest on the Howick patch since I moved here in 2009. Great White Egret, Siberian Stonechat and another Barred Warbler in the garden were my highlights.

Great White Egret at the Pond Field, Howick.
These meagre offerings were eclipsed slightly further afield when I added Cattle Egret, Collared Flycatcher and Ivory Gull to my Northumberland List. Again, I didnt do any national twitching....In 2014 I might keep a low key year list, something I've not done for years.

Collared Flycatcher ( Ian Fisher)
On the downside locally, some usually annual birds were missed such as Redstart, Garden Warbler, Grey Plover etc

Holidays. Three weeks away shared equally between Suffolk, Catalonia and Ardnamurchan added a lot of interest, with several new moths, plants and lichens to identify. 2014 will see us away to the Outer Hebrides for the first time...

Nettle Tree Butterfly, Catalonia, Spain
Moths. My best year ever despite several missed spring species such as Pine Beauty, Oak Beauty, Engrailed etc. I ended up with 369 species of Lepidoptera in the garden. I even managed a few trips out to upland habitats mothing that added to the interest plus a successful public event held here at our village hall.
Garden trapping will continue unabated during 2014, with, hopefully, another public event in the summer...

Chocolate Tip, Suffolk, a real contender for highlight of the year.
So, what has been the highlight of 2013? After some consideration, it is not the expected bird or moth but a mammal that takes the honours. A Minke Whale seen well, off my home patch in the summer, was only my third and a first for me in Northumberland. To see it surfacing on an oily calm sea, un-noticed by a good few other 'users' as the warm afternoon sun shone down will remain etched in my memory....

Happy New Year everyone, enjoy yourselves what ever you get up to....stay well. X.

Sunday, December 22, 2013


I see today there has been a report of a 'probable' Steller's Eider in Lothian that flew off south.

Anyway, lets hope it ends up in Amble or Seahouses Harbour eating chips...

The mention of it today brought back a nice wave of nostalgia of the day in November 2000 when ADMc and myself took the unusual decision to go twitching up to Inverness-shire on a Saturday, rather than go on our usual day, Sunday. The birding gods looked down on us that day for sure, because as soon as dusk approached Mrs Steller's flew off shore never to be seen again. The Sunday twitchers dipped.

A supporting cast of 20+ Long tailed Duck, Hooded Crow and a few Crested Tits on Speyside, dusted with the first snows of winter made for an excellent day out. I must do it again sometime...


Tuesday, December 17, 2013


You won't have noticed this but in the right hand column is a box linked to Bubo, the listing website that I keep my county list on. For a milisecond I was on 331 for Northumberland, until this email arrived...

Dear BUBO listers

As many of you will no doubt be aware, the BOURC has reviewed the 1998 Druridge Bay Slender-billed Curlew record and now no longer considers it acceptable - announcement is here http://www.bou.org.uk/british-list/recent-announcements/changes/

As a result, we've removed the species from BOU and "Britain+Ireland" authorities in BUBO Listing, and those of you who had the species on your lists with those authorities will now find yourself one species fewer. Apologies if this upsets!

There are also a number of records in BUBO Listing on World lists and Western Pal lists that either clearly specify Druridge Bay, or don't give a location. Obviously, we're not removing the species from the underlying World and Western Pal baselists, and we're not planning to unilaterally remove your Druridge SBC records from World or Western P lists either. However, some of you may wish to do so yourselves, particularly if you wish to be consistent with your British lists. Up to you really.

Best wishes

Brilliant. Now technology is so ingrained and tight that we are no longer in control of our own lists!

Oh well, I suppose its the right thing to do. We need a base line even if they are wrong.

(They have thrown out a good record. That bird WAS as Slender-billed Curlew, its only griping politics that have seen it off....)

There will be no more said on the subject.

Sunday, December 08, 2013

Gone, but not forgotten.

I headed up to Beadnell this morning at first light hoping to get involved in the twitch for the Ivory Gull siblings, with much less panic than yesterday, cool in the knowledge, they were already UTB.

Now I knew these birds were not going to be a roll over from yesterday, mainly because there was no fixed food source to attract them. Gulls in harbours or fish quays are one thing, feeding on fish scraps, but birds on the shore or nearby fields looking out for a food supply is an altogether different proposition. Still, with many eyes looking, it was a matter of time before they turned up. Surely.

As time passed, the theory that they must be on the Farnes feasting on drowned seal pups was mooted until word came that these islands had been checked by a boat owning birder, who only had a single Iceland Gull to report from the archipelago.

That leaves us wondering now, where are they? Well to me, one ( the little'un) didnt seem too clever before roost, so maybe its succumbed to the waves, but the other seemed fit enough. I'm sure, well, hopeful anyway, that one or even both will turn up again. But where? There is a lot of unwatched coast line from North Northumberland into Lothian that could hide the pair...

What can we hope for next? Recently this stretch of coast has had Glauc, Iceland, Little, Bonapartes and Ivory in the space of a few weeks. I hope there's Captain Ross's out there waiting to be discovered...
Sunderland, many years ago...

Saturday, December 07, 2013

The Ivory Twins...

The basic drawing was in the field with a quick colour added at home...

What can be better than a pre-Christmas gift in the form of an Ivory Gull?

Two Ivory Gulls, thats what!

Festering around the house today chopping logs and tidying up, I was oblivious to the excitement unfolding just along the road at Beadnell, until I sat down for lunch to watch 'Wild Burma' and checked my phone. Loads of messages had come through from Gary, Ian and Steph telling me that there was an Ivory Gull at Seahouses golfcourse.

There was such a scatter, as I grabbed my gear, Clouded Leopard and Sun Bear were left playing and I jumped into the car and headed north. The light was already fading and I knew I wouldn't get on site until about 3pm, with adrenalin kicking in.

After two false starts, that saw an overweight almost 50 yr old running up and down dunes to get some bearings, I eventually saw a group of birders gathered near Beadnell, scoping a skeer just offshore. A quick drive along and I was out of the car and onto the birds immediately. One asleep, looked smaller than the other. Snow white with grubby looking patches, they sat quite unconcerned waiting until the tide pushed them off to roost.

What a superb pair, they should really be on the pack ice waiting for the cast offs from a Polar Bears dinner, but here they sat in a balmy, pleasant Northumberland winter.

The last one in the county was on 23rd December 1979 when Mike Hodgson saw one arrive from the east at Seahouses harbour only a mile from here. These twins are a county tick for just about every one and are well overdue.

I hope they stay awhile so all can catch up with them. I think I'll return for seconds in the morning....

PS - Looking at the literature, Northumberland has had the following records of Ivory Gull...

Adult shot off the Tyne prior to 1874
Two adults Holy Island 3rd Feb 1887
Imm shot Beadnell around 1897
Imm Tyne Estuary 18th December 1970 - 23rd February 1971
Imm Seahouses harbour 23rd - 25th December 1979

This makes today's birds the 7th and 8th county records.

Thursday, December 05, 2013

Showing characters of...

Above Top - My field Notes ( I hope the welsh bloke did some during his 5 minutes) and bottom a tidier version. Sorry I didnt have a camera then.

So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, adieu....

The Druridge Slender-billed Curlew has finally bit the dust ( maybe too literally).

Its great to see loads of comments on twitter from people who didnt see it saying 'there I told you so' and one who did see it say 'I looked at it for 5 mins, wasted my time then drove back to Wales' . I do hope he spends such a long time poring over the other rarities he twitches. Unless his expertise is so great he knew immediately it wasn't one. Maybe he should have told the BBRC and saved them 15 years?

I saw it twice, but then again it was only 3 miles from home. First time was in drizzle at distance when it didn't look like anything different, then the next time it was in good light at a nice range with other Curlews. This bird was like no Common Curlew or Eastern Curlew etc, thats for sure.

As for Evans saying its the same individual that was at Minsmere, what a load of bollocks. Just google images of both and see what you think .His chin was wobbling when he dipped it on the Friday ( as seen on TV local news with Tom Tams laughing in the background)

After seeing the bird, some of us were quite privileged to see a skin of a first year female SBC at the Hancock Museum in Newcastle that looked identical.

So why was it booted? I've no idea but have to bow to the greater knowledge and experience of those experts who feel it isn't fit for inclusion.  Maybe it was just too rare to be a possibility...I suppose I'll have to remove it from my lists?

Tuesday, December 03, 2013


Well, that's the holidays booked for next year....

Apologies for stealing copyrighted images off the internet. If any are yours let me know and I'll pay for it .
(Of course I won't, but it will be removed...sheesh, some people have no respect. Its not like I've used them for profit for goodness sake, get over it. )

Monday, December 02, 2013

Loose Ends....

The wonders of having flexible working hours means that you can extend the weekend once in a while.

Today was one such chance, but, being December, there wasn't too much happening. First of all I had to carry out my community service work ( no I haven't been arrested, its just voluntary) and headed off to the Village Hall to clean the external windows. That took about an hour and a half so it was time to get out with Bunty.

The local birds seemed mostly concentrated around our feeders with 3 Great spotted Woodpeckers, 40 Sparrows, both House and Tree and 2 Sparrowhawks. Out over the back field 6 Snipe squeaked away from a damp patch and a couple of Redwings dropped in to roost in village wood. Nothing of note was seen on the sea.

This made me wonder, where has this Ivory Gull gone?

My hopes that it was scavenging at the bottom of Cullernose point came to nothing. In fact, the day would have been very quiet with little breeze, low cloud and subdued local birdlife had it not been for some ambient racket going on. The Boulmer Sea-king was doing circuits of the village, while above it RAF tornados or whatever they use now, roared overhead. The quarry was blasting and tipping rocks into lorries a mile inland but it sounded like it was on the doorstep and a few cars on the coast road were in rally mode. So much for the quiet rural life. Any self respecting Ivory Gull would have given here a wide berth and headed straight back to arctic silence!

Maybe it has gone the way of so many passage seabirds seen, heading north, south of the Tyne - the South Shields / Tynemouth triangle seems to have taken another victim...

Sunday, December 01, 2013

Plot Lost....

Long time no see.

Do you remember when I used to blog regularly? I always had plenty to say, but now for some reason I don't. Maybe I can blame Twitter?

Maybe its time to call the whole thing off....

Its only the years of posting on here that stops me doing just that. I have seen blog colleagues come and go and come back again even stronger than before, so for now they remain my inspiration.

Right, time to snap out of it and get something written....