coquet nature lover

Friday, 29 December 2017

Fieldfares arrive with the snowfall

A flock of fieldfares arrived in my garden today

What a lovely surprise to see these colourful winter thrushes perched on the snow laden-branches of the sweet chestnut tree. It's been a few years since fieldfares have visited my Northumberland garden - hopefully they will find some berries to eat!

The Fieldfare
by John Rickell

Lonely on a crab tree top
speckled breast and grey-blue head,
against the melting snow.
Have you lost your way....?
You are welcome to round red fruits,
pears I threw from the bedroom window.
Where are your friends, out in the fields?
Why not tell them of your luck...
sultanas on the lawn at eight
just as the sun was rising,
yew and ivy through frosty nights,
a bath to bathe or drink.
When you return to northern lands
tell your mates and families
there's a welcome waiting here
no matter what the weather.

Thursday, 30 November 2017

Photo Scavenger Hunt: November

Inspired by the many beautiful photos on Hawthorn's 'Photo Scavenger Hunt' challenge in October, I've decided to join in with the challenge.

I live, I love, I craft, I am me

A photograph inspired by a word, 
words inspired by the photograph.  
Remember to think laterally and interpret at you fancy, 
be it a current photo or one from your archives - Enjoy!

The words for November are:

Starts with a .....W
My own choice

Northumberland: I love the blue sea, the blue sky - simply beautiful


Or, perhaps for YOU as I'm allergic to chocolate! 

A magnificent display of assorted Lindt Lindor chocolates.

What a wonderful wedding cake - it was absolutely scrumptious too!

RAINBOW bums in Northumberland

You may wonder why these sheep have such colourful rear ends? Well, to assist the farmers in their planning, the tup (male) wears a harness in between his front legs with a chalk block. When it has mated, the ewe (female) is coloured on her rear. This way, they know who their 'top' tups are and also when the lambs will be due!

This photo was contributed to my blog early in 2017 by a local resident and should not be shared without permission. Thank you for respecting this.


Here we have numerous sunset coloured sandstone arches of a Romantic ruin - yes, it's quite dramatic don't you think? I took this photo of Heidelberg Castle's Powder Tower on a visit in August this year. It was blown apart by the French in 1689 and made famous by Mark Twain's description in his travel book, A Tramp Abroad:  

'A ruin must be rightly situated, to be effective. This one could not have been better placed. It stands upon a commanding elevation, it is buried in green woods, there is no level ground about it, but, on the contrary, there are wooden terraces upon terraces, and one looks down through shining leaves into profound chasms and abysses where twilight reigns and the sun cannot intrude'. 

'Final Days' by Kaws, an American artist, based in New York

This seven metre high wooden sculpture was part of the Frieze Sculpture exhibition in Regents Park, London this year. In total 25 exhibits, by leading 20th century and contemporary artists from around the world, were on display for the public to view at no charge.

'Final Days' actually references The Smurfs with one interpretation being that high quality wooden toys bring back memories, giving you a sense of satisfaction in that you want to hold, hug and touch them. With its size and the skull and crossbones, it may however convey a feeling of an evil-looking character.


Happy memories of a pleasant stroll along on the beach. With the tide coming in, we felt the water swirling around our feet!


Harvesting the sea salt into pyramid shaped piles

The photo I have chosen was taken at the salinas (saltpans) on the Ria Formosa in Portugal where salt production is achieved through traditional methods. The saltpans also provide an amazing habitat for wildlife including flamingoes.

The toes of most birds are protected by claws or flat nails. Different birds have different types of feet but perching birds, such as this stonechat, need to grip on to branches, twigs and wires. They have evolved to have three toes pointing forward and one pointing backward enabling them to clamp their toes around a branch to stop them from falling off! 

I thought you would enjoy this photo of a beautifully crafted piece of artwork on a wall I walked past. I think it was an enamelled ceramic tree but as I didn't know the owner and there wasn't a plaque, I'm just hazarding a guess.


Hope you enjoyed the photos and thanks for joining me on my hunt!

You can have a look at other contributors by clicking on this link

Wednesday, 22 November 2017

Autumn arrivals

Watch out for waxwings!
Yes, it's that time of year and some waxwings have arrived - perhaps not an invasion.. but sightings of these beautiful birds that brighten up our day have been reported in Northumberland. In fact, two were seen at the local prison last Thursday. It looks as though they might not have got out as they haven't been seen since!!

With a huge population of blackbirds and woodpigeons feasting on the hawthorn and rowan berries in my garden, the waxwings will need to be quick! The photo above was taken from my living room window a few years back but somehow, I don't think I will be getting another garden shot this winter.

At this time of year, bramblings are usually found in the countryside eating beechmast but this one appeared on the feeder in my garden on November 7th. I don't normally see them until Christmas at the earliest. Perhaps it was the same bird that visited in March of this year? Well, you never know!


This bullfinch came down to the feeder last weekend and enjoyed the sunflower seeds. I often see pairs in the spring as they spend a lot of time in the cherry trees at the top of the garden but over the summer months, they haven't been around. They could however be seen in the scrub along the path by the river Coquet in Rothbury and in woodlands further up the valley. Wallington Hall, owned by the National Trust, is also a good place to find this seed and bud loving finch as the habitat there is very suitable. If you are visiting this region, Wallington is definitely worth a visit with over 13,000 acres of woodland and moorland to explore!

I hadn't realised that until quite recently, it was legal to trap and kill bullfinches as pests. Even now, it is still permitted to kill them under licence under certain circumstances. And yes, I'm not too happy about that...  

Siskins tend to breed in woodlands and forestry plantations further up the Coquetdale valley but now that there is less natural food about, they are coming to the garden feeders for tasty sunflower seeds.

Here we have a dark-billed first winter blackbird - but... is it Scandinavian or British? I took this photo last month on Holy Island which is just off the coast of Northumberland.

There is a fair bit of scepticism about being able to identify Scandinavian blackbirds with dark beaks. First year male Scandinavian birds do however acquire yellow beaks later in the year than the British birds. As they tend to start breeding later in the spring for climatic reasons, perhaps this is why their beaks remain darker for longer?  What I can confirm is that a huge influx of dark beaked blackbirds arrived on the Northumberland coast last month and they are now turning up further inland in our gardens. So, perhaps this one is a migrant after all - maybe one I saw in Alnmouth or on Holy Island where there were numerous birds that seemed to have no fear of humans, possibly due to fatigue after crossing the North Sea.

Although toads are fairly common in and around the pond in my garden, it's not often I find one amongst the herbs or on the mossy wall by my back door. Yes, we both had quite a fright!

In winter, red-necked grebes head to the UK from colder regions in northern Europe, such as Russia and can be found on the sea off the east coast of  England. The bird pictured below paid a visit to a pool in Linton, Northumberland and happily stayed for a fortnight. The last reported sighting was on 8th November so it looks as though it has moved on now.

red-necked grebe

Little grebes are a much more common sight in Northumberland and can often be spotted on the pools at Wallington and the river Coquet in Rothbury.  I have also seen many in the estuary of the Coquet at Warkworth.

little grebe at Wallington

In January this year, I spotted some Slavonian grebes on the Coquet at Warkworth in Northumberland. They can be found around the coasts of the UK between October and March however I have to admit it is not a species I come across very often. I do have a photo of a Slavonian grebe, taken at Gullane Bay on the east coast of Scotland. Hopefully, I will be able to find it and include it in this blog post!

Yes, here it is - it's not great a great shot but I think you will like the photo of Gullane Bay which I decided to include too.

From Gullane Bay you can walk to the beautiful nature reserve of Aberlady Bay. There is a circular walk that heads through the reserve, taking you across paths, dunes and sandy beaches. In fact, you can start at either point and at Gullane, there is a large car park and public conveniences which is worth knowing.

Great crested grebes are a favourite of mine. They are very graceful with their long necks and bills. In the summer, they have beautiful reddish-orange crests with black tips. Although they are resident in the north-east of England, I find it much easier to spot them on gravel pits from the carriages of the East Coast Main Line train when I am travelling to London! If you are in London, head to Hyde Park as there are several families there that have bred successfully. They hang out near the boats you can hire.

Here are two of my favourite photos of great crested grebes, taken on Lake Maggiore in Switzerland. The parents carry their babies on their backs and you can see them in the photos with their black and white stripes.

great crested grebe with young on back

Autumn arrival in Portugal: common ringed plover - ring no. 895838

Yes, she's back safe and sound!

Finally, here are some recent photos of the common ringed plover I have been tracking for a few years. Once again, I spotted it in its usual location by the octopus fish market in Santa Luzia, Portugal. If you follow my blog, you will recall that this bird was bred in Iceland and rung as a chick in Sandasandar, Iceland in May 2010. 

Santa Luzia, on the Ria Formosa, seems to be the plover's favourite wintering location and it has now been seen on the sea shore there on consecutive years since 2013.

see previous post 13/04/2017: update on common ringed plover 895838

common ringed plover - 06/10/17

Here is an update of the sightings of this common ringed plover which the University of Iceland kindly sent me. Sorry it isn't very clear. 
If you would like a pdf, just let me know and I can email it to you.

Well, that's it for today... if you've seen any waxwings or had any interesting birds in your garden, I am all ears - just drop me a note in the comments!

Friday, 27 October 2017

European bee-eater visits the Northumberland coast

Spectacular, stunning... but sadly off-course 

European bee-eater ready to take off to catch another dragonfly

Northumberland is probably one of the least likely places to see a bee-eater but, with the storm Ophelia lashing the country, one of these beautiful birds ended up on our awesome coast a couple of weeks ago. In fact, two European bee-eaters were spotted on the 15th October, one of which stayed in the area for a week! The last reported sighting was on the 22nd which is the day the southerly winds changed to W-N-W. Perhaps it was an opportunity to get on its way to the continent.

More interested in insects than berries!

The bee-eater moved between Druridge Pools and East Chevington to the north. I first saw it sitting on a fence in the pasture land north of Druridge Pools. It then took off, flying high in the air before settling much closer to the welcoming crowd, next to the outlet ditch leading from the largest pool to the sea.  We watched its gliding flight numerous times, each time returning to the same perch - rather like a fly-catcher. The bee-eater appeared to like hunting over the ditch, perhaps because there were still some late autumn damselflies and dragonflies in flight. There certainly weren't many bees about but this particular bird spent a lot of time hunting for food, over the ditch and in between the pools, so hopefully it was able to refuel before continuing its journey to warmer southerly climes.

Late visitors to the garden - Butterflies

The late flowering plants such as this echinacea and white buddleja provided a late nectar source in the garden for butterlies such as the Peacock and Red Admiral below. 
Peacock with its unmistakable eyespots

Red Admiral with its velvety black wings and red bands

This species below (Speckled Wood) is often found in woodlands but can also be spotted in hedgerows and shady spots in the garden. This is especially the case, early and late in the year, when there are less aphids about. Over the last decade or so, their range has expanded northwards in a direct response to impacts on climate change so now we can enjoy spotting them in Northumberland.

Speckled Wood with its brown wings and creamy-yellow spots

I read the following interesting snippet on the North East England branch of the Butterfly Conservation website. It doesn't give any reasons but it would make interesting research. 
"The Comma, for example, was common in the nineteenth century but was then extinct in the region for much of the twentieth century before returning in the 1990s"
Comma with its ragged wing edges
Small Tortoiseshell sunning itself on the garden steps

More from the garden - but this time edible!

The veg didn't do too well this year, largely due to the wildlife in the garden. The deer may be sweet to see but they munch through the fruit and veg as if there were no tomorrow! Luckily, the deer don't attempt to enter the greenhouse so the vine has produced a good supply of grapes.

The lemon tree has quite a few fruits which are steadily ripening and should be ready for New Years Day, providing they don't dropoff. 

Although the figs weren't particularly large this year, they did ripen and were quite scrumptious. The tree has recently produced a lot more fruit but, at this time of year, you need to remove them.... Well, that's what Monty says!
I have the 'Brown Turkey' variety which is reliable - especially as it is planted in a large pot in the greenhouse so has a little winter warmth and protection from the elements. 

The Victoria plum tree I planted in the orchard a few years ago is now starting to produce fruit. This spring, the tree had quite a lot of blossom but, despite a very mild winter, there was a late frost which caused a lot of the blossom to drop.

last of the tomatoes and french beans

Late departure from Alnmouth station!

Swallows tend to breed quite late into the season compared to most birds. These four fellas were sitting in their nest, just above the public WC at Alnmouth station (27/08).  Now, I'm quite used to seeing late trains there but it's the first time I've seen such a late brood of swallows!  Fortunately, when I was at the station a few days later, they had fledged. Hopefully they were strong enough to migrate south as somehow, I don't think they will be happy on our chilly eastern coast this winter!

Baby swallows waiting to be fed
Here's Mum on the left with a few tasty insects!

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

Bringing you the beauty of the bog

On a recent trip to Carlisle, I thought I would take the opportunity to visit the the southern shore of the Solway in Cumbria. The Solway Plain is a great place to visit if you are in the Lake District and you will find this northern stretch much quieter than the major tourist attractions of Windermere, Keswick and William Wordsworth's first home near Grasmere.

Following a meander along the coast listening to the cries of curlews and oystercatchers, I decided to pay a visit to RSPB Campfield Marsh to take a walk along the boardwalk across Bowness Common. Well, after all, it is August, and the wintering flocks of geese which this reserve is famous for, had certainly not arrived!

Bogs are often considered to be rather dull, barren, wet and swamp-like - in fact a place to avoid for fear of drowning... Of course, there are potential dangers but with the boardwalk at this RSPB site, my perception certainly changed as, from this safe path, the beauty of the bog was clear to see.

The plants in the next two photos are both members of the sedge family. The first photo is of cotton grass which is common in Northumberland. For once, the wind enhanced my photo which I'm really pleased with and certainly makes a change!

This next photo is of white beak sedge, a species quite rare in Northumberland. On the Solway however, it was one of the most abundant plants to be found on the bog.

White beak sedge

Peat bogs form when the rate of decomposition of vegetation is slowed down due to waterlogged conditions which leads to plant remains building up. Peat bogs typically grow slowly - in fact less than one millimetre a year, but over thousands of years this builds up into a layer several metres thick. Now, how amazing is that!

Bogs host a wide range of specialist plants and animals, specially adapted to the waterlogged, acidic habitat.
The most important peat-forming plants are various species of Sphagnum mosses. These are very unusual plants which can soak up water like a sponge, holding it in specially adapted cells. They are also very resistant to decay, and have anti-microbial properties. This led to the use of Sphagnum as a wound dressing in the first world war. Unfortunately the water retaining properties of Sphagnum moss also made it useful for hanging baskets, while peat has been used as a soil conditioner by gardeners for many years, adding organic matter and improving the structure of clay soils.  
Sphagnum cuspidatum
The moss in the above photo grows in the wettest part of the bog, submerged in pools. It is sometimes known as the 'drowned kitten' sphagnum because of its slighty shaggy appearance.

With its distinctive reddish colour, the moss in the next photo is characteristic of slightly drier parts of the bog surface.

Sphagnum capillifolium
Polytrichum strictum moss
Peat has also been burnt as a fuel in the west of Scotland and particularly Ireland. This has led to the loss of many bogs through commercial exploitation. However, intact peat bogs are now recognised as very valuable habitats, and those that remain are protected under UK and European law. With their important stores of carbon, bogs play a part in regulating global CO2 levels and combat climate change.

The bog featured in this blog post at Campfield Marsh forms part of South Solway Mosses Special Area of Conservation, and is one of the largest raised bogs remaining in the UK.
Mountain view from the boardwalk through the bog
Bog myrtle
Heather grows on drier parts of the bog, but another member of the heather family is much more tolerant of wetter conditions – cross-leaved heath.  This starts to flower a little earlier than heather, and can be recognised by its hairy stems and leaves which form a whorl, grouped in four – forming a series of crosses up the stem.
Cross leaved heath

One of the insects which specialise in bog habitats is the black darter dragonfly.  They breed in acidic bog pools. Eggs are laid in summer then overwinter in the pools, and hatch the following spring. The larvae develop very quickly, emerging as adults by June. They are on the wing from June to October. The male is the only British dragonfly which is all black; the female pictured here looks very different – it has a yellow abdomen with black markings, and a brown thorax.

Near the edge of the bog there was a flooded forest of what had been downy birch trees.  Water levels will have been raised in order to help preserve the bog vegetation.  
The decaying trees are now home to some large bracket fungi, which feed on dead wood.

Around the edge of the bog, there were hedgerows and drier fields which is where you will find flocks of geese in winter. Hedgerow flowers included the common ragwort, which was being visited by this hoverfly.
Eristalis tenax hoverfly
This is also known as the common drone-fly, so-called because they mimic the appearance of male hive bees (drones).  Unlike the black darter dragonfly, they are not at all fussy about where they grow up – the larvae, called ‘rat-tailed maggots’, can happily live in polluted, organically enriched water around manure heaps.

Green-veined white butterfly
I didn't manage to spot a green-veined white when I did the butterfly count but at least I finally have a decent photo. I find it really difficult to take photos of these beautiful creatures as they are constantly moving from flower to flower in search of sweet nectar!

I hope you enjoyed the post and that perhaps you too will get the opportunity to visit this very special habitat!

And don't forget, next year when you are off to buy a liner for your hanging basket, please consider an environmentally friendly alternative such as coconut fibre or coir. You can even use dried leaves or leaf compost from your garden. We need to protect our valuable bogs so, remember, sphagnum gathered from the wild is a big no-no!

Thank you for visiting my blog - hope to see you next time!