coquet nature lover

Saturday, 25 February 2017

Test only - Latest post is on the Eastern black redstart published 24/02

This is just really a test post to see if I can resolve problems with rss feed and email notifications not going out.  Please just ignore it. I will delete this item tomorrow and then the post I wrote yesterday on the rare Eastern black redstart in Skinningrove should be highlighted instead. Apologies if you are not receiving updates.

Friday, 24 February 2017

Male Eastern black redstart looking for a mate

Coquetnaturelover off to the Cleveland coast

On a Saturday in the middle of February when it feels like spring... yet you've got to drive a hundred miles to work in Whitby, what could be better than a short detour to Skinningrove on the North Yorkshire coast to see where a rare Eastern black redstart has set up a winter territory. Well that's what happened to me last weekend and I wasn't disappointed!

In Continental Europe, black redstarts are quite a familiar garden bird however, after a period of easterly winds during the migration season last autumn, some black redstarts of a much more exotic origin appeared on the Cleveland coast! These were Eastern black redstarts, clearly distinguished by their bright orangey-red breasts and black throats. The grey head of this male bird indicates it belongs to subspecies phoenicuroides, which breeds in the Altai region of southern Russia, and neighbouring parts of central Asia including Mongolia, eastern Kazakhstan, and the western Himalayas. Another subspecies, rufiventris, is similar but with a blacker head and back and breeds in China and the eastern Himalayas. Both are widespread in India during the winter but the small coastal town of Skinningrove, with its towering cliffs and sheltered bays, is where one of the birds has remained!

looking south towards Whitby from Skinningrove

I thought it might be quite difficult to find this lost migrant but amazingly, this majestic bird was happily singing from a sea wall just a few metres from me. I'm not sure though if he was defending his territory from the confused local robins, or perhaps attempting to attract a mate! It's a pity I didn't take a video for you as you could see his chest pumping in and out as he sang so sweetly. This unusual visitor certainly seemed very content and incredibly tame - not at all intimidated by the numerous families enjoying a coastal walk close to where the bird was perched!

According to RSPB there are around 100 breeding pairs of European birds in Britain, mostly in urban areas of our two largest cities, London and Birmingham, although they do also occur along the south coast. These birds belong to subspecies gibralteriensis. Unlike the colourful Eastern subspecies, European males have an all-black breast. The females of both races are a dull grey colour but all redstarts have a distinctive red tail.

With spring just around the corner, it is likely that this Eastern black redstart will be leaving very soon. Sadly, it's difficult to imagine how he can find his way back to central Asia although in theory, he'd only have to fly across to Europe, or perhaps move to Birmingham in order to find a mate! 

Yes, great views of a lovely little bird with a big personality 
 and well worth the detour! 

Monday, 13 February 2017

Flock of twite at Lindisfarne

Thought these photos might bring you a ray of sunshine to what's been a miserable weekend weatherwise in Northumberland! They were taken on the Lindisfarne coast a couple of weeks ago, not far from the causeway to Holy Island. It's the first time I've seen such a large flock of twite.
I counted at least eight on the tree tops!

large flock of twite
female twite perched on young Ash tree
pale bellied Brent geese wintering on coastal fields in Northumberland
looking across the saltmarsh
tide coming in over the saltmarsh
looking towards Holy Island

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Common ringed plover ring number 895838

Coquetnaturelover's search for migratory birds

Common ringed plovers are a familiar bird of the Northumberland coast. This species used to be more frequent inland, breeding on river shingle in Coquetdale and other valleys, but are now rare in these areas.  There is however a small population at Beadnell Bay where the National Trust manage a 'little tern' breeding colony with fencing to prevent disturbance to the breeding terns. The good news is that it is known that up to twelve pairs of common ringed plovers have bred in this protected area.

Anyhow, this blog post is about a well-travelled bird, bred in Iceland. I thought you might be interested to learn more about her and how the plumage and migration pattern differs to our resident population. 

Common ringed plover chick (Bodvar©)


Common ringed plover 895838 on the move

I first spotted the female common ringed plover, photographed below (ring number 895838) while on holiday in Portugal in 2014. As it had four coloured rings on its legs, I decided to try to find out more about this shorebird and to see if there was a track of its movements and life history.  Due to the fading colours of one of the rings, it took almost sixteen months to confirm its identity. In February 2016, I received an email from the South Iceland Research Centre, based at the University of Iceland, advising me that this borrelho (Portuguese for common ringed plover) was rung as a chick in Sandasandar, Iceland in May 2010! The project they manage monitors the migration of this species with some recordings as far south as Morocco! The report went on to say that the Icelandic population is estimated at 50,000 breeding pairs and is "well known for its leap-frog migration moving south to Portugal, Spain and West Africa" whereas the British population "is mostly sedentary". Thought that would make you smile!

foraging on the foreshore
Santa Luzia, Algarve (Oct 2016)

Although I had to wait quite some time for information, the data I finally received was very detailed, with numerous sightings of the bird I spotted, in both Iceland and Portugal.  There have also been sightings on the same shoreline in Santa Luzia in Oct 2013 and Oct 2014 as well as in Tavira (Oct 2015) which is very close by! Last Autumn (2016), I spotted her again in almost the same location in Santa Luzia. Now, how amazing is that? 

Yes, I'm back for the winter so get off my patch! (Oct 2016)

After wintering on the Algarve, this common ringed plover returns to Iceland in April for the breeding season and then departs sometime in September.  I am not sure how long the journey takes but it seems to be back in Portugal by early October. To see this small bird, in almost the identical spot as last time, to watch her bathe, feed and defend her territory, right in front of my very eyes was quite amazing.  Hopefully, I will see her again on the Ria Formosa this Autumn! 

My contact at the Research Centre regularly updates me with the new sightings and has kindly given me permission to post the following photos. In the second and fourth photo, you can see the summer plumage of the Icelandic breeding population (sub-species psammodroma). In the summer, their plumage looks very similar to that of the common ringed plover that reside in the UK (sub-species hiaticula) although they are relatively smaller in size. In the autumn and winter, they look very different with the Icelandic birds moulting into a much duller plumage, while the British birds keep their black rings throughout the year. According to Engelmoer, and Roselaar's Geographical Variation in Waders, the white patch above the bill is smaller in the Icelandic birds.

From egg to chick - what a beautiful sequence!

 The nest is no more than a shallow scrape in the ground - lined with pebbles
Clutch of four eggs (Bodvar©)
Incubation (Bodvar©)
Cute common ringed plover chick (Bodvar©)
All grown up!  (Bodvar©)
Yes, the bird in the snow in the pic above perhaps looks more slender than our more familiar British common ringed plovers?

Back to Beadnell

The photo of the common ringed plover below was taken in July last year at Beadnell Bay where the National Trust manage the 'little tern' breeding colony, known as the Long Nanny project. To see my post 'A walk at Beadnell Bay, Northumberland click here

  Common ringed plover with dunlin - Beadnell Bay - July 2016
(Common ringed plover: Fr-Bécasseau variable   D-Alpenstrandläufer)
(Dunlin: Fr-Grand gravelot   D-Sandregenpfeifer)

I find these small, dumpy birds very active and difficult to photograph. When feeding, they stand and watch for a moment, then run forwards very fast whilst pecking.  I will have to try to get a close up shot with the subject in the frame next time! Maybe our UK population don't cross borders but as an amateur photographer, I wouldn't describe them as 'sedentary'!

If any of my readers have a good photo of a common ringed plover taken in Northumberland, I would be delighted to add it to this post and credit you with the image source.

More photos of common ringed plover 895838 in Santa Luzia

Here are some snaps that I took on the Ria Formosa back in 2014 when I first saw this wader foraging on the seashore. 

Santa Luzia, Algarve - October 2014
Santa Luzia, Algarve - October 2014


Common ringed plover sightings since ringing date in May 2010

If you are interested, here are the records of this bird's migration pattern which the University of Iceland kindly sent me.  Click below to view data on 895838 as far back as May 2010:

Monday, 23 January 2017

Winter walk in Coquetdale, Northumberland

Get your boots on with coquet nature lover 

  • Maybe it’s a sure sign of growing old, or maybe I’ve just been busy, but this last week I’ve been on ‘home terrain mode’ in the Coquet valley...

  • Maybe Northumberland isn’t on your bucket list but, if you are a country lover and happen to be passing through the north-east, head up to Coquetdale and you won’t be disappointed!

  • Maybe you won’t return but hopefully you will.  If not, at least you can say you’ve been... and you can cross it off your list! Just remember to pack a waterproof and your wellies – just in case!

When I go out into the countryside and see the sun and the green and everything flowering, I say to myself "Yes indeed, all that belongs to me!" 
Henri Rousseau

Enjoy the photos!

Winter sunrise looking towards Cragside

Simonside Hills with Rothbury buried in the low-lying mist

Overnight cooling of surface air can result in a nocturnal temperature inversion that dissipates as the air near the ground warms up. This phenomenon can often be seen at this time of year in the Coquet Valley and makes for an amazing photo. You have to be up early to get your photo though!


A few shots from the hedgerows...

female blackbird


bullfinch - male

bullfinch - female



and up in the trees...

nuthatch almost out of sight!

red squirrel

and on the riverbank...

red legged partridges

roe deer

rather sad looking grey heron

and in the Coquet...

Little grebes too can sometimes be spotted however they are quite shy and often lurk close to the margins of the water. Just when you are ready to take your photo, they tend to dive or disappear into the vegetation!
little grebe on the Coquet

Although the next photo was actually taken at Wallington, goosanders with their razor sharp beaks, are also a familiar sight on the Coquet. As you can see in the previous photo, the little grebe in the river's turbulent waters is not quite so well defined. Still, I decided to include it as it is quite atmospheric.



Friday, 6 January 2017

Simply the Solway in the southwest of Scotland

The Solway is a region that wildly exceeded my expectations. In fact, I first visited this unspoilt part of Scotland by accident a couple of years ago. The intention had been to spend a day in the Lake District but, as it was absolutely heaving with traffic and tourists, I decided to head back to the M6 and drive north to Gretna Green instead - yes, over the border to Scotland! From Gretna, you head for Dumfries then west to Galloway. What a great decision it was too! 
(Keswick in the Lakes to Dumfries by car takes approx 45 minutes - 45 miles/72km)

Unlike the Lakes, the Solway coast is sparsely populated and has few visitors so it's a great location for both wildlife and nature lovers who want to spend a few moments in time away from the everyday hustle and bustle and enjoy the peaceful coastal walks and stunning sunsets.

The photos in this post, with the exception of the greenfinch, were taken on my visit just before last Christmas.  

Winter sun at midday over the Solway


rosehips in the hedgerow
greenfinch eating Japanese rosehip seeds  
(Fr-verdier  D-grünling)
perfect perch for a goldfinch  
(Fr-chardonneret   D-stieglitz) 
great tit   
(Fr-méssange charbonnière   D-kohlmeise)

Hedgerows clothed with a rich carpet of lichens
Usnea subfloridana
unidentified lichens 
(Fr-rougegorge   D-rotkehlchen)
mistle thrush   
(grive draine   D-misteldrossel)

Barnacle geese and pink-foots

Although some Barnacle geese winter here in the north-east, the majority leave Svalbard (halfway between Norway and the North Pole) in late September/early October and head for Islay and the Solway where they stay until April. The journey is 3,000 km journey and it is reported that they may fly non stop in under three days.

Here are photos of the geese taken at RSPB Mersehead nature reserve. The barnacle geese grazed in the fields and didn't seem to be disturbed by visitors on the nearby footpath until a helicopter flew overhead.

Barnacle geese   
(Fr-Bernache nonnette   D-Weisswangengans)
taking off
up, up and away we go
A flock of pink-footed geese were also on the move
(Fr-oie à bec court   D-kurzschnabelgans)

Northumberland is also a destination in winter for pink-footed geese and the photo below (taken on New Years Day) shows part of a flock of over a thousand feeding on fields near Wooler. It is estimated that between 6-12,000 pink foots winter in the county. The main areas also include Lindisfarne and Druridge. If you are a regular reader, you will have seen my post on Lindisfarne (Holy Island) last October.

pink-footed geese near Wooler, Northumberland


Here are a couple of birds of prey - also known a raptors. Out of interest, the word 'raptor' has a Latin origin and is derived from the verb 'rapere' meaning to seize or take by force. Not great photos of birds in flight but I was happy to get them in the frame! The geese in the photos above were much easier to take!

(Fr-buse variable   D-mäusebussard)

Red kite   
(Fr-Milan royal   D-Milan roter)

This red kite was hunting near Loch Ken
gorse flowering in December - Port Patrick


The next three photos are of fulmars on the cliff face at Port Patrick. The word 'fulmar' has has an Old Norse origin - fúll (“foul”) and már (“gull”) - in reference to the foul smelling oil they spit out when disturbed. The second and third photos show a pair greeting and bonding with each other with much head bopping and bills wide open. This is typical behaviour of this grey and white seabird, related to the albatross.

Fulmar in flight   
(Fr-pétrel fulmar   D-eissturmvogel) 
pair bonding with open beaks

strengthening bonds

Back on the subject of etymology, the name of the elegant seabird in the next photo can be traced back to french - no surprise there! With its long legs and long slender down-curved bill, the origin of 'curlew' could date back as far as the mid-14th century from Old French courlieu. The french verb 'courir' translates 'to run' and these birds can run fast! 'Lieu' translates to 'place' so it does seem plausible. (13c., Modern French courlis), said to be imitative of the bird's cry but apparently assimilated with corliu 'runner, messenger,'  from corre 'to run') ( 

(Fr-courlis cendré   D-grosser brachvogel)

At the end of the blog, you will find the poem 'The Horses' by Ted Hughes. He was a great nature lover and many of his poems explored his passion for nature. In The Horses, the curlew is used as a symbol to interrupt the silence of the morning (line 17) as well as to represent the noise of the city in the penultimate line.
Click here to listen to a curlew on the Solway estuary

 Sunset on the Solway - Rockcliffe

The Horses 
by Ted Hughes

I climbed through woods in the hour-before-dawn dark.
Evil air, a frost-making stillness,

Not a leaf, not a bird -
A world cast in frost. I came out above the wood

Where my breath left tortuous statues in the iron light.
But the valleys were draining the darkness

Till the moorline - blackening dregs of the brightening grey -
Halved the sky ahead. And I saw the horses:

Huge in the dense grey - ten together -
Megalith-still. They breathed, making no move,

with draped manes and tilted hind-hooves,
Making no sound.

I passed: not one snorted or jerked its head.
Grey silent fragments

Of a grey silent world.

I listened in emptiness on the moor-ridge.
The curlew's tear turned its edge on the silence.

Slowly detail leafed from the darkness. Then the sun
Orange, red, red erupted

Silently, and splitting to its core tore and flung cloud,
Shook the gulf open, showed blue,

And the big planets hanging -
I turned

Stumbling in the fever of a dream, down towards
The dark woods, from the kindling tops,

And came to the horses.
There, still they stood,
But now steaming and glistening under the flow of light,

Their draped stone manes, their tilted hind-hooves
Stirring under a thaw while all around them

The frost showed its fires. But still they made no sound.
Not one snorted or stamped,

Their hung heads patient as the horizons,
High over valleys in the red levelling rays -

In din of crowded streets, going among the years, the faces,
May I still meet my memory in so lonely a place

Between the streams and the red clouds, hearing the curlews,
Hearing the horizons endure.