Wednesday, 29 September 2010

Sunset on the Fell

After raining most of the day it stopped just before sunset and what a nice sunset it was too. I dashed out before the sun disappeared to try and get a few photos. I did manage to rattle off a few before it dropped over the horizon but as usual the results are no way as good as the real thing. 5 Robins were singing in less than 100 metres of hedge and a Tawny Owl was calling somewhere beyond the old Waldridge Tavern.  A Woodcock flew by heading towards the Hermitage Woods and finally a flock of about 120 Jackdaws headed west before disappearing into the black.

Tonight's Sunset

Monday, 27 September 2010

Birds overhead

Re the Whooper Swan at the riverside park on Saturday with the colour ring. It may be a while before its origins are discovered - "As a result of this reorganisation, I regret that there is likely to be some delay in providing feedback on your ring re-sightings this winter."

To add to the winter birds, a Siskin flew over today, I don't think it will be too long before Fieldfare and Brambling join the list.  Also overhead, 17 Greenfinch flew west and a Long-tailed Tit, was circling (and gaining height) and calling constantly before flying off to the SW.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

Winter is drawing near I'm afraid.

Still northerly wind and rather cold but a couple of spells of sunshine when I tramped over the fell produced single Speckled Wood and Small Tortoisehell butterflies.  Still good numbers of Meadow Pipits around (I counted 26) and a single Chiffchaff called and gave brief views by the bog. Five Mistle Thrush and 102 Common Starling were on the wires but the finches must have moved off to elsewhere as apart from 5 Goldfinch nearby there was no sign of the flock present earlier in the month. Single Great Spotted Woodpecker and  Willow Tit called in the Felledge wood.
On the way back I heard a call that I haven't heard since April and looking up saw my first Redwing of the autumn heading west. Winter is drawing near I'm afraid.

Saturday, 25 September 2010

Down by the riverside

Got a call saying there is a Whooper Swan on the river at Chester-le-Street Riverside Park so I thought I better pop down and have a quick look. At 60p/hour to park there, at a public park to less, it was going to be a quick look too.
It was soon found, an adult Whooper amongst 52 Mute Swans. The bird was very approachable and certainly did not appear wild. It climbed out of the water at one point and revealed a nice  plastic red DARVIC ring on its left leg sporting the code Y696. This is the same type of ring used on Mute Swans, including the majority present on the river but I was unaware of anyone ringing Whoopers with the same type of ring. Anyway should be able to find out where this bird has been rung as I've been on the website relating to colour-rung birds and the Wildfowl & Wetland Trust have been using this colour and type of ring only since this year so I dropped them an email telling them.

The Whooper Swan amongst the Mutes

The red ring sported by the Whooper

Also present in my very very quick look was a  Chinese Goose-type thing of very doubtful origin

Chinese Goose - Domesticated form of Swan Goose or hybrid 
As well as 5 Goosander, 11 Tufted Duck, 1 Little Grebe, pair of Lesser Black-backed Gull, 1 Common Gull, 2 Dipper, 2 Grey Wagtail and 46 Pied Wagtail as well as the usual Mallard, Moorhen and Black-headed Gull. The water level was too high and running too fast for any Kingfishers.

Lesser Black-backed Gull at the Riverside Park

2 Cormorants were showing the fisherman how it was done but the latter were not impressed by these birds to say the least.

Immature Cormorant - the best fisherman on the river today

Overnight visit by one of the Blairs

Strong (and cold) northerly wind overnight so the numbers and species were down in the moth trap when I checked this morning. However a single Blair's Shoulder-knot was new for the year. This species usually appears in early October and wasn't discovered in the UK until 1951 but has rapidly spread north. The larvae feed on the flowers of garden Cypresses included the often dreaded Leyland Cypress.

Blair's Shoulder-knot

Friday, 24 September 2010

From out of town

Had little time to check the moth trap this morning so I've covered it up and kept it dry. I did seen my first Green-brindled Crescent of the year lurking inside at least, so it's looking promising. In this weather the contents should settle down and will be quiet enough for me to go through when I get back home later.
A north-easterly wind and rain so there should be some decent seabirds passing offshore today and tomorrow at least, though they will not be seen in Waldridge that's for sure - Oh I wish I could be proved wrong.

7 House Martin flew south over the house early on and also 2 Blackbird heading south-west high up, these may well not be local birds.

Later, when I was in Sunderland we caught a strange insect that was climbing up an office wall. It turned out to be a Western Conifer Seed Bug - Leptoglossus occidentalis.  This is a spectacular and quite large beetle  which has characteristic expansions on the hind tibiae and a white zigzag mark across the centre of the forewings. Native to the USA and introduced into Europe in 1999, this species has since spread rapidly and during the autumn of 2008 and 2009 influxes of immigrants were reported from the coast of southern England, with a wide scatter of records inland.

Western Conifer Seed Bug 

I know it has been seen in Cumbria but I'm unaware of any Durham records so I'm making some enquiries.

As it happens, the sea-watching at the coast was very disappointing, with the wind nothing like as strong as forecast. Checked the trap when I got back, 41 Moths of 16 species were present, as well as the Green-brindled Crescent, which was a spanking fresh individual with it's patches of metallic green scales, there were 2 Lunar Underwing which were also new for the year. Took the whole catch into the Hermitage woods for release as I have to put the trap out again tonight.

Green-brindled Crescent
Lunar Underwing

Monday, 20 September 2010

A difficult pair

Just had the Mercury Vapour moth trap out for a few hours before bed last night due to the predicted heavy rain and no spare bulb at the moment. 19 moths of 9 species with 5 Setaceous Hebrew Character being the most frequent but also included one of the tortrix moths, Strawberry Tortrix Acleris comariana or Acleris laterana. This species 'pair' are very difficult (or impossible) to tell apart without examination under the microscope, and as I have had confirmed both of these species in the garden trap before it's best to put them down as one or the other.

17 Pink-footed Geese flew over at first light, heading south. I have now had this species flying over the house in autumn each year for the past five so it must be on some sort of flight path for the species. 65 Black-headed Gull, 5 House Martin and a Swallow also flew over heading south this morning. Birds were quite active despite the overcast conditions, with Nuthatch, Bullfinch and Great-spotted Woodpecker all calling from the paddock and 2 pairs of displaying Collared Dove in the same area.

Saturday, 18 September 2010

Windy Waldridge

Garden moth night so I set the trap out last night and looking at the weather, that was the only reason for doing so. The temperature dropped during the night to 6C at the coast but 2.6C in cold, windy Waldridge. I was expecting a small catch but even I was disappointed when I discovered lurking in the bottom, a single moth - 1 Frosted Orange - that was it - nothing else at all! I have had some excellent, in fact record, catches this year, so I shouldn't really complain.

Three juvenile House Martin were flying around the house this morning for 20 minutes before flying off and the garden Sedums had 2 Red Admiral, a Small Tortoisehell and 5 Syrphus ribesii hoverflies by mid morning. Another Small Tortoisehell was flitting about in the garage later but flew off strongly when released. South Burn Woods had a feeding party of adult and juvenile Long-tailed Tit and a Great Spotted Woodpecker but bird-wise it was quiet. I didn't see any butterflies, probably due to the wind, but there were six species of hoverfly including a Helophilus pendulus as well as the same species that have been in the garden this week.

Helophilus pendulus hoverfly.
Its scientific name means "dangling swamp-lover"

Also a single Nettle-tap moth on some Yarrow flowers. This species is one of the micro-moths but is a daytime flyer, from May to the first frosts. It can sometimes occur in large numbers on it's larval plant Stinging Nettle of which there was a large windswept patch very close but I could not see any there today.

Thursday, 16 September 2010

A little bit of sun

Another two days of wind and rain but at least there was a patch of sun first thing this morning. I counted a total of 23 House Martin and a single Swallow fly over, all heading south. These I'm fairly sure will not be local birds. One of the fields has just been sown and contained the following array of birds. Pheasant, Grey Partridge, Rook, Jackdaw, Black-headed Gull, Blackbird, Greenfinch, Linnet, Goldfinch, House Sparrow, Starling and Skylark.

In the garden, the Buddleja has finished so the insects have turned their attention to the large Sedums and Japanese Anenomes. 4 Red Admiral and 2 Small Tortoiseshell, plus a Silver Y moth and more than 10 Syrphus ribesii hoverflies as well as several Buff-tailed, White-tailed and Common Carder Bumblebees were feasting themselves in the morning.

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Waldridge is still in bloom ... if you look hard enough

Two days of strong westerly wind and showers is not really what the naturalist wants. The garden seemed devoid of live and the fell was so windswept that anything that moved was quickly blown out of sight.
I had a slow walk along the 'new' road from Poppyfields to the Brass Castle/ Waldridge Hall farm junction not expecting to see anything. I managed to find 34 species of flowering plant still in bloom, a number such as Common Ragwort and Common Red Poppy only had a few flowers remaining but others such as Fox-and-Cubs (Hieracium aurantiacum) seemed to be almost at their peak.

Common Red Poppy
Common Ragwort

 Feeding on the last of the autumn nectar and sheltering from the wind were two species of hoverfly, Volucella pellucens and Eristalis tenax as well as two Speckled Wood and a Red Admiral.  I was occassionally looking up as well as down and though there was little flying, two Mallard, 34 Lapwing, single Meadow Pipit and Grey Wagtail  and the first of the winter Common Gulls flew over. So 34 species of plant in flower (plus another dozen in fruit),  2 species of butterfly, 2 species of hoverfly and 12 species of birds were all seen along one small stretch of road. Sometimes you just have to look a bit.

Sunday, 12 September 2010

A few birds on the move

A bit of diurnal bird passage today with several Meadow Pipit, 2 Grey Wagtail, 3 Swallow and 7 Lesser Black-backed Gulls seen flying over heading south or south-west.
A Southern Hawker was alongside Waldridge Lane near the nursery with a singing Chiffchaff and 2 Stock Dove nearby and both Large & Small White in the garden together with 2 hoverflies, Syrphus ribesii and Eristalis tenax but the westerly wind has kept much out of sight.

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Moths on the move

A lot of rain last night but it was quite mild and it was a Friday garden moth night , so the trap was out. The total moth count  and the species count were up from the other night, mainly because there were several micro-moths this time.  So 64 moths of 27 species was quite respectable. The catch also consisted of 2 species of Green Lacewing, a Forest Shieldbug (Pentatoma rufipes)  and another Carrion Beetle. However the 13 Silver Y and a single Rush Veneer were migrants, so moths are on the move. These may well have arrived at the coast on Tuesday or Wednesday in the SE winds and have gradually moved inland subsequently to Waldridge.

Rush Veneer - a migrant moth

A Nuthatch was calling and a Blackcap was singing amongst 6+ autumn singing Robins at first light.

Later, a single Small White butterfly appeared on the buddleja in between the showers and a female Sparrow-hawk perched on the roof of a nearby house. I realised that from this latter viewpoint it would have a good view of the fields with their take-away menu of mixed finches.

Thursday, 9 September 2010

The Beetles and smelly fields forever

Woke up this morning to a very thick fog, 15 minutes later and it was gone. Checked the moth trap and there were 56 moths of 18 species in it together with a Common Wasp, 2 Carrion Beetles  Nicrophorus investigator 

The Carrion Beetle Nicrophorus investigator 

and a Hoverfly Platycheirus clypeatus

 Hoverfly Platycheirus clypeatus in the trap

My first Red-green Carpet of the year was the best of the moths present

Red-Green Carpet

The Carrion Beetle is a fascinating thing and both those in the trap, as usual, were carrying a few insects themselves, mites. The beetle ignores its passengers because basically the mites eat fly eggs and their larvae, aka maggots. Now Flies are competitors to Carrion Beetle because they can get to dead thing quicker (they can fly after all)  and will strip the dead animal before the beetle to it.  So the Carrion Beetle puts up with these little hanger's-on because its to their advantage. Mother nature and symbiosis strikes again.

A Red Admiral and a Small White in the garden together with my first Buff-tailed Bumblebee for a while  and a Speckled Wood in the woods once the sun got out.  I was not out on the fell for long at all and just managed to see 2 Grey Wagtail flying over and a family party of 6 Swallows on the wires, before the really horrid smell from whatever had been put on the adjacent fields drove me back. It really was very bad today and not for the first time this year. I could even smell it in the town centre later.

Wednesday, 8 September 2010

Finch behaviour - I don't know what I'm talking about

A juvenile Chiffchaff was in the garden at first light this morning and a Grey Heron, heading west flew over the house. Looks promising for the odd bird but a slight hitch, I've got to go to work.
Didn't bother with the trap last night due to the weather but I was brought a moth that was found on a  neighbour's door this morning. He insisted it wasn't the usual yellow underwing which was confirmed as soon as I saw it as it was a Grey Chi. This species is a northern moth that prefers moorland and rough hills. It has a habit of resting on walls and occurs in August/September so wasn't too surprising but it was the first I've seen this year.

Grey Chi

The problem with keeping a Blog is that as soon as you make a statement such as the field has been ploughed up and the finch flock has gone, is that you are proved that you don't know what you're talking about! The field has been ploughed undoubtedly and there's only a thin strip of weedy arable land right by the hedge which is not 'set-a-side' but just that the plough couldn't reach. So it makes sense that the birds must have gone. Then today, as I walk past, 136 Linnet, 34 Greenfinch and 27 Common Starling were flushed from it. So they haven't  left after all.

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

No stubble but not even a close shave

A really horrid day with a strong SE wind this morning and heavy showers, no chance of any early morning birding and with the wind last night if I had put my trap out it wouldn't have been there this morning.  The wind had lessened considerably and the rain stopped by the time I got back home from work.

I only had time for a very quick look about late afternoon. A walk to the stubble field and found it was gone, its all been ploughed now. Strange how the finch flock disappeared days before - how on earth did they know? An immature female Sparrowhawk didn't know as it twice flashed past but there were no small birds about for it to flush. By the side of Waldridge Lane I saw a Stonechat, this time a juvenile male, unlike the adult I have seen a few times about 400 meters away recently. So nothing even close to a migrant. With everything being very damp including myself from soggy vegetation, I headed back. This weather had produced quite a few migrants at the coast but I would have been very lucky if it had sent anything this far inland so early.. tomorrow maybe.

A couple of Field Grasshoppers were waiting on the front door path when I came back, presumably the lawn is too soggy for them too.

Sunday, 5 September 2010

Under the patio table

As usual I released the moths I trapped on Friday in the garden last night. The vast majority fly out of the garden and probably feed elsewhere. It's unusual for any of them to be hanging around the following day. Today however, what I suspect was the same male Broad-bordered Yellow Underwing was hiding under the patio table, as was a female which I had not caught the other night. Maybe he was impressed with what's on offer in the garden and brought his girlfriend along for a meal.

Broad-bodied Yellow Underwing - male
Broad-bodied Yellow Underwing - female
This species, unlike the majority of moths, show marked differences in colouration depending on sex. The males are generally shades of dark brown,  where as the females are an orangey-buff.

 No sign of any finches again in the stubble, where have they got to? A SE wind but very cloudy and cool and there's not one butterfly in the garden. Half a dozen Marmalade Hoverfly Episyrphus balteatus flitting around the flowers together with a lone Carder Bumblebee is the best I could muster..
Now 12 Golden Plover at Chester Moor where there's still a family party of Swallow and a calling Chiffchaff that burst into song for a minute or so in the hedge along the road leading into the village.  On the quiet walk back I hear a faint 'scaip' call and looked up to see a Common Snipe flying overhead, heading towards the fell.

Saturday, 4 September 2010

Carpets & Cormorant

 With it being a mild night last night I was quite hopeful for a good moth catch this morning, and it wasn't too bad. A total of 57 moths of 29 species was quite adequate considering the time of the year. The best being 4 species of Carpet - Flame, Garden, Common Marbled and Dark Marbled, plus Canary-shouldered & Dusky Thorns, 4 species of Yellow Underwing again, another Hedge Rustic  and my first Frosted Orange of the year.

Flame Carpet
Garden Carpet
Frosted Orange

There were no House Martins over the house this morning but there were at least 50, together with 5-6 Swallow over Daisy Hill but I did see a Cormorant flying over, presumably heading back down to the riverside park area of the Wear where the numbers have been increasing every year for a while now. A couple of Common Darter dragonflies were the only other thing of note with there being few butterflies on the wing today, despite it being rather warm, either over the fell or in the garden. In fact the buddlejas only had 3 Small White and 1 Wall all day.

Went through my books later to try and name a parasitic wasp that was in the trap this morning and I had potted up.  I did manage to identify it as an Ichneumon wasp of the genus Ophion but not to the exact species

Ichneumon wasp of the genus Ophion

Passing Chester Moor, my first Golden Plover of the winter were seen when two flew over the road and landed in one of the usual fields by Beaney Lane where they are usually present every year.

Friday, 3 September 2010

In the dark

Didn't have time this morning to count the finches. A tidy up in the garden flushed a few moths in the way of single Large & Lesser Yellow Underwing, a micro moth Udea lutealis  and a Small White butterfly. This tea-time 2 House Martin and 3 Common Swift were over the house,  the first of either for a while so they were probably not [very] local birds.

Udea lutealis 

I followed up Steve Evan's correspondence of a possible fire on the fell this morning by taking a little walk this evening. It was already getting towards dusk as  the moth trap had come on and a Pipistrelle bat flew over the Hermitage Woods. Before long I could see the smoke, a noticeable column,  but no flames and it must be contained as there was only a small area of burnt heather & gorse.  

White flowers stand out much more in this half-light, the Yarrow now at their peak being particularly prominent. I might not have noticed in daylight but some other white flowers caught my eye. In fact they were Harebell but this patch with about a dozen flowers were white instead of the usual blue like all the others around. Too dark for a photo, I'll try and get one tomorrow. 

The police helicopter flew over and had a look at the fire or it was checking out a report of a strange man with binoculars on the fell. I wouldn't have been surprised it was the latter, as I don't know who got a bigger shock a few minutes earlier.  As I went down the hill I 'flushed' an elderly lady in the middle of the bottom hedge who was, I believe picking blackberries, even though it was nearly dark. 

You see some unusual  sights on the fell. 

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Fell Finch Fluctuations

A Wall butterfly was seen roosting in a corner of the outside window first thing and the Grey Squirrel was again by the farmhouse carrying something quite large in it's mouth. I'm not sure what it was but it may have been a chick. Anyway there were 2 Magpies going mad at it, chattering away and mobbing it.  All 3 disappeared over the paddock fence.

Stopping at the stubble field and all the birds were on the telegraph wires where there were well over 200 birds perched up. However the Greenfinch count had gone back down to 64 birds. The majority were Linnet, presumably from a bit further a field and there were now 136 of them, together with 13 Common Starling. 

Wednesday, 1 September 2010

Things that go bump in the night

I checked the moth trap just after midnight and there was well over 20 moths of about a dozen species already inside or buzzing around. Half an hour later I'm in bed, the light is off when there's a thump against the window. I looked out through the window but nothing to be seen. No sign of any life in the street, only a couple of Tawny Owls 'kwicking' and hooting loudly, they must be very close.  I climbed back in bed and reported nothing to be seen. 'What if someone is in the garden then?'  I was asked so no doubt about it I was going to have to get up again. Unlocked the door and ventured out, the Owls had stopped calling and went to check the garden. It was light because the trap was on but certainly nothing obvious so went to look for evidence by the window. I stopped in my tracks as I spotted a young Tawny Owl still with a few traces of down sitting stunned under the window. I walked over to pick it up but it flew off obviously unharmed. As soon as it was airborne the 'kvicking' started again for a minute or so  but that was the last I saw or heard of the owls.
A couple of questions I suppose -
One - very late for a fledged Tawny still with a little bit of down surely, even if the pair managed a 2nd brood?
Two - How come it came to hit the window when there was no light on?
I suppose I can have a guess at the latter in that it was after a moth which it chased or saw on the window.

Quite an exciting night.

I was up not that many hours later emptying the trap which wasn't too bad at all and it certainly had an autumnal and rustic element. 44 moths of 21 species including my first Small Autumnal Moth, Hedge Rustic, and Northern Deep-brown Dart of the year and only my second ever Autumnal Rustic for the garden.

Small Autumnal Moth

Autumnal Rustic

A Canary-shouldered Thorn and late Fan-footed Wave and Willow Beauty were also present overall making it an excellent night all round.

Canary-shouldered Thorn

There were a couple of Common Wasps in the trap too but unlike several other moth-trappers, I haven't been too bothered with them this year. Some years they can be a real pain in the  *** (though usually the back of my hand), but not this year.

One of two Common Wasps in the trap

Counted the Greenfinch flock in the stubble as I passed later, 96, so still rising. A ton tomorrow?