Thursday, 31 March 2011

A March Waldridge Willow Warbler

Quite a dull, breezy day with the wind gusting at 36mph when I left this morning. Even though it has swung round to the SW, I didn't put the moth trap out last night. I still managed one moth, as a Common Quaker had somehow found it way into the house.
I wasn't expecting anything as I headed off for work but as soon as I stepped out of the front door this morning a heard a Willow Warbler singing, as well as 2 Chiffchaff. Not only my first of the year but my first March Willow Warbler here at Waldridge, even if only just. It cheered me up no end.
I also saw a few more flowers for the first time this year with Ivy-leaved Speedwell and White Dead-nettle along the bridleway and Common Whitlow-grass on the pavement by the recycling area in the town centre. My OFFH (On foot from home) flora list is now standing at 41.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Pairing up after a chilly night.

A rather chilly night with a minimum temperature of 2.2C and a fair amount of dew this morning.  41 moths of 7 species in the trap overnight.  Apart from the usual Orthosias there were single Yellow HornedEarly Tooth-striped and Early Grey. The full list was

Yellow Horned (Achlya flavicornis) 1
Early Tooth-striped (
Trichopteryx carpinata) 1
Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi) 19
Clouded Drab (Orthosia incerta) 3
Twin-spotted Quaker (Orthosia munda) 2
Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica) 15
Early Grey  (Xylocampa areola) 1

At dawn this morning, sorting out the catch in the garden, I could both Green and Great spotted WoodpeckerTawny Owl and Chiffchaff singing as well as the commoner garden birds.

Talking of which, two male Greenfinches are now virtually resident at the bird table as I'm down to the last bag of food for the season and it's mainly sunflower seeds, so they two happy finches. The hen Blackbird has finished lining her nest though she isn't sitting yet but the first egg will probably still be laid in March. Wrens are going in and out of the nestbox occasionally but I still haven't  seen them with any nesting material. The Robins have paired up as they are often together now whereas even a few weeks ago, the resident bird, which looks like having been the female, was chasing every other Robin and occasional other bird that ventured into the garden. The Dunnocks have deserted the garden and nesting across the road, just using the garden as a feeding area and song post. I don't think the male, at least, is the same bird (poor Dennis) but interestingly they are nesting in a conifer again.

Sunday, 27 March 2011

I need more time

Only a very quick look in South Burn Woods today - life's too busy - I need  more time!

Common Starling on the feeders
Just the local birds, most of them now in some stage of the breeding cycle. 3 Chiffchaffs were singing alongside the resident birds. As I left the house this afternoon, the Starlings were still feeding on the suet balls on the feeders. Why they left them alone all winter, even in the worst of the weather and now decide to feed on them I don't know.

Small Tortoiseshell on a Dandeliion
The number of insects are now increasing as the days get warmer and longer. Two Small Tortoiseshell were sunning themselves along the path and three Buff-tailed Bumble-bee queens were also present. It was another cold night compared to earlier in the week and I hadn't put the moth trap out, if I had, I doubt I would have had more than a few of the common spring moths. The Goat Willow is full of catkins with the other species (and hybrids) in bud but it won't be long before they are also out. When they are in flower in a few days it will dramatically reduce the number of moths I catch and I fully expect it to be like that for the rest of the April. The tinkers just refuse to leave the blossom just because there a nice light above a moth trap not too far away.

The flora around the woods is growing rapidly now. A Wild Plum tree (Prunus domestica) was in full flower, more advanced than the Blackthorns that are also in flower at the moment but still only have a few open flowers per bush. White Dead-nettle was also in flower for the first time.

Wild Plum in South Burn Woods full of flower

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Temperature & Moths down - it must be GMS Night

Both the moths numbers and the temperature dropped overnight, 82 of 8 species and 2.8C respectively, but it was the Garden Moth Scheme trapping night which always seems to be poorer, maybe they should change it from a Friday.
The moths in the trap consisted of

 1 Oak Beauty (Biston strataria)
 2 Pine Beauty (Panolis flammea)
 2 Small Quaker (Orthosia cruda)
62 Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi)
 2 Clouded Drab (Orthosia incerta)
 1 Twin-spotted Quaker (Orthosia munda)
11 Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica)
 1 Early Grey (Xylocampa areola)

Birds in the garden are still very active with 2 House Sparrow and a pair of Goldfinch, the cock displaying and singing to his mate, adding their numbers to the throng today. As I mentioned before, despite the pair of Blackbird nesting in the garden so close to the food there does not seem to be any issue over territory. At least 5 different (3 male and 2 female) Blackbirds have been feeding here in the last couple of days.
A Green Woodpecker was calling from Hermitage Woods which is good as I thought they had left this spot this year. Another  clue that its spring, as well as the clocks going forward tonight,  was in one of the fields by Chester Moor, a flock of gulls. These were all adult Common Gulls on there way to their northern breeding grounds. Nearby, four new species of flowering plant were noted in flower for the first time this year. On the A167, in the central reservation, were Common Winter-cress and Danish Scurvy-grass with Annual Meadow-grass on the verge and Ash in the hedgerow.

Friday, 25 March 2011


A misty cold start with the temperature down to 1.6C by 6am, I had already made the decision to give the Quakers a rest and leave the moth trapping until tonight. For an unknown  reason the bird table has become its busiest for some time. Today it held 3 Common Starling feeding on the nut balls, 2 Great Tit, 2 Coal Tit and 3 Blue Tit, 2 Greenfinch, 8 Wood Pigeon, 2 Collared Dove, 2 Robin, 3 Dunnock, and 2 Chaffinch. Rather surprising considering how little much food I putting out.
The first Lesser Celandine flower of the year

Amongst the flora now in flower in the hedge and roadside by the house today were Common Groundsel, Lesser Celandine, Goat WillowDog's Mercury and Red Dead-nettle.

Dog's Mercury - most plants now in full flower

3 Small Tortoiseshell and a Comma were flitting around them with, and at long last my first Bumblebee of the year, a queen Buff-tailed Bumblebee looking for a suitable site for nest.

Comma sunning itself by the path

Thursday, 24 March 2011

More of the same

A bit cooler overnight it with the temperature dropping to 6.8C. By 00:30 hrs it had rising a couple of degrees and I had a quick look at the moth trap before I went to bed. There was obviously a lot of moths on the wing as they were flying around all over. It always gives me a buzz, when they are buzzing about as it means there is a chance of a goodie in the trap when I check it. The Tawny Owls were calling as is usual again but more unusually, a Robin was also singing despite it being nighttime.

It took a little while to plough through the moths as I eventually counted 166 of 11 species. Nothing exceptional in the way of species, nearly all of them being what I have already been catching the past two weeks.

The moths in the trap consisted of

 1 Tortricodes alternella 
 2 Early Tooth-striped (Trichopteryx carpinata)
 6 Oak Beauty (Biston strataria)
 6 Small Quaker (Orthosia cruda)
92 Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi)
17 Clouded Drab (Orthosia incerta)
10 Twin-spotted Quaker (Orthosia munda)
24 Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica)
 6 Early Grey (Xylocampa areola)
 1 The Chestnut (Conistra vaccinii)
 1 Oak Nycteoline (Nycteola revayana)

One of the Oak Beauties had being going at first as it was melanistic, the first time I've had one.

'Normal' Oak Beauty
'Melanistic' Oak Beauty

The Oak Nycteoline not only being my first this year was a well marked individual, grey-brown with bold black spots and a pure white head and shoulders bordered with black. Very nice as they are usally much more drab than this but they do vary tremendously. Disappointingly, it flew off before I got any decent picture.

Oak Nycteoline

The only micro moth was another Tortricodes alternella, that's the species that caused me bother earlier this month.

The Great Spotted Woodpecker was drumming yet again at first light.

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Spring continues forth

Another gorgeous spring day so what do I do, go to work of course. With it being warm all day it should be worthwhile putting the moth trap out overnight, here's hoping.
The heat of the day brought out the butterflies with three species on the wing around the garden and South Burn woods, Small Tortoiseshell, Comma and the first Peacock of the year. The woods now have 3 singing Chiffchaff present as well as many singing resident birds and an adjacent hedgerow had the first Blackthorn in flower. 
The garden also had a Small Tortoiseshell as well as a couple of Seven-spot Ladybird. 

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Horned, Tooth-striped and another Beauty

Yesterday was a lovely day, far to nice to go to work, but I had to. A Grey Wagtail and 12 Meadow Pipit flew over the house when I left but that was it. It clouded over a little later but it was still 9C when I put the trap out so there should have been a few things in it when I checked this morning. The temperature dropped overnight to 6.2 C and that produced a trap of 78 moths of 10 species this morning consisting of

1 Yellow Horned (Achlya flavicornis)
1 Early Tooth-striped (Trichopteryx carpinata)
3 Oak Beauty (Biston strataria)
1 Pine Beauty (Panolis flammea)
43 Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi)
2 Small  Quaker (Orthosia cruda)
8 Clouded Drab (Orthosia incerta)
2 Twin-spotted Quaker (Orthosia munda)
14 Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica)
3 Early Grey (Xylocampa areola)

So 5 species of Orthosia moth and 3 new for the year - Pine Beauty, Early Tooth-stripe and Yellow Horned.
Early Tooth-striped
Pine Beauty
Yellow horned

This latter moth gets both it's English and latin name from the yellowish colour of the antennae, though they always look more orange to me.

Yellow or orange?
I'm easing off feeding the birds now but there are a few looking for the little that I am still putting out. This morning there were 3 Blackbirds, despite a pair actually nesting within 10 feet of the food, 1 Robin, 2 Collared Dove, 1 Coal Tit, 1 Blue Tit, 2 Dunnock and 11 Wood Pigeon. The Starlings that breed next door rarely come into the garden but I have just seen them enter the gap in the tiles with fresh nesting material for the first time this year. I'll continue feeding them in the garden until this final bag runs out probably next week. Then you watch, it'll snow and I'll have to buy another bag. In the nearby paddock, the Great-spotted Woodpecker was still drumming and a Jay flew out back into the woods.

As I had a quiet saunter down the road, I noticed quite a few Bramble leaves had the tell-tale evidence of a Leaf miner moth. This one belongs to the micromoth Stigmella aurella and is always found on Bramble.  The shape of the mine created by the larva as it feeds between the leaf  and the species of plant being mined  is a much more reliable aid to identification than the tiny adult moth itself.

Later, by the train station in Chester-le-Street  I saw two butterflies flying around. two different species, one Small Tortoiseshell and one Comma.

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Orange Underwings

A short walk early afternoon through the first part of Hermitage woods and South Burn, over the bridge, a quick look around Brass Castle pond before heading back an hour later. It was a little cloudy and breezy but 11C and quite pleasant when the sun was out.
There are now 2 Chiffchaff singing in the Hermitage woods but I couldn't hear any anywhere else. 2 Green Woodpecker called from the Fell area and at least 3 Great spotted Woodpecker were also seen. Colt's-foot is now out in flower on the path into the woods as was Common Field Speedwell.

Common or Persian Field Speedwell
In South Burn Woods, Dog's Mercury and Opposite-leaved Golden Saxifrage were well in flower, a male Kestrel flew over, several Bullfinch were in the Downy Birches and nearby, a Willow Tit and a Siskin were at Brass Castle Pond.
Opposite-leaved Golden-saxifrage
 Probably the best sighting of the day were two Orange Underwing moths around the birches. This is a rather local, day flying moth that is on the wing in March and April. I have seen them here before as they are usually seen flying on sunny days high around the tops of the birches before they come into leaf, flying lower later in the afternoon. Unfortunately these did not fly lower today but Becky, one of the Countryside team at Gateshead send me a smashing picture of one she took yesterday as it sunned itself at Strother Hills in Gateshead, so I had to upload it here.

Orange Underwing [Becky Hethrington]

Saturday, 19 March 2011

Twas a Bright, Moonlit Night last Night

A bright moonlit night last night, with a minimum temperature of 1.1C
I don't know if it was because of the bright moon but the Tawny Owls were at their most vocal, with I think, 5 different birds calling.

Bright cold nights are not good for moth trapping and the numbers were down on the other day but higher than I had anticipated There were 13 moths of 5 species present this morning consisting of

1 March Moth
5 Oak Beauty
5 Common Quaker
1 Hebrew Character  
1 Early Grey  

March Moth

Nothing new for the year but 5 Oak Beauties is a nice sight.

A box of Oak Beauties

Great Spotted Woodpecker still drumming yet again at first light, and a roding Woodcock flew over. The latter are great birds and I do regard myself lucky to have breeding birds on my doorstep. Roding Woodcock usually perform the first hour or so after sunset, just as the Tawny Owls are 'warming up' on their singing and again as dawn breaks. They tend not to display during the night. Waldridge is an excellent place for them, you could sit outside the Waldridge Tavern, having a pint and watch them display. They are a superb bird, I think described as they squeak like a mouse, grunt like a pig, hide in leaf-litter and fly at night - Woodcock are weird.

Friday, 18 March 2011

Euonymus Blackbirds & Spring Firsts

Spring continues - even though it was just above zero last night.
The garden gets visited by a number of individual Blackbirds and this morning I watched one of last year's female birds gathering nesting material. It was carrying mainly moss so she must be lining her nest but I didn't expect it to fly such a short distance away into the Euonymus 'Emerald and Gold'  bush, just a few metres away from the window. I watched the comings and goings a little while before setting off for work and discovered not only is it nesting there but its mate is also a first year bird. With both parents being completely inexperienced it will be interesting to see how the two fair the coming months. Especially so as that female Sparrowhawk  is still about,  I saw it fly over the new road late afternoon.

Chiffchaff in the Woods 
As I said spring is here and today the first Chiffchaff of the year was singing in Hermitage Woods and the first butterfly, a Small Tortoiseshell was sunning itself on the ballast by the side of the road.
Small Tortoiseshell - the first of the year
All of a sudden it felt warmer.

Thursday, 17 March 2011

Mole seen down a hole in a hill

Spring is moving on at full speed now, confirmation being the first, of very many, Common Daisies in flower in my lawn.  

Common Daisy
Wild plants I saw in flower for the first time this year, today,  are the 'weeds'  Hairy Bitter-cress, Red Deadnettle & Shepherd's Purse and by the South Burn Marsh Marigold and Goat Willow

Hairy Bitter-cress

On a non-floral and more unusual front, I was walking up the road by Smith’s Field and was amazed at how many molehills are along that stretch.  I was thinking about counting them for a few metres when something caught my eye on one of them. A Mole appeared, stretched out, grabbed some dry grass and went back in again. It took me quite by surprise because I can probably count on one hand the number of live Moles I’ve ever seen. I assume it was getting some bedding for it's nest.
So that makes 5 species of mammal I’ve seen OFFH (on foot from home)  this year, together with 28 species of flower,13 moths and 80 species of bird.
Just before I turned into Waldridge Road, a large female Sparrowhawk that was obviously perched up in one of the Grey Alders flew off and across the road towards the village. That is at least the fourth individual I have seen around the estate this winter.

I haven't been down the riverside for a little while but I hear that yesterday and again today, the Whooper Swan was reported back down there plus the male Scaup & 2 Mandarin. Looks like the Scaup may also be an escapee or a feral bird, despite it turning up originally in immature plumage. More disturbing is that I hear a Mink was also seen down there yesterday. Though undoubtably reliable I am surprised that one was seen here as Otters which are also present here occupy a similar niche in the ecosystem and being six times bigger I would have thought would drive the Mink out. Hopefully that is the case and the Mink is just a transient. Having said all that, Otters can do just as much damage to nesting birds (and fish) as Mink and are not as nice and cuddly as their press reports.

Wednesday, 16 March 2011

A big bag of Quakers

A mild night with a minimum temperature of 3.9C and a second day of it being misty and damp so the moth trap stayed out all night. A good haul of 43 moths of 10 species present this morning consisting of -
1 March Moth (Alsophila aescularia)
2 Pale Brindled Beauty (Phigalia pilosaria)
3 Oak Beauty (Biston strataria)
22 Common Quaker (Orthosia cerasi)
1 Small  Quaker (Orthosia cruda)

Small Quaker - 1st of the year

2 Clouded Drab (Orthosia incerta)
5 Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica)
5 Early Grey (Xylocampa areola)
1 The Satellite (Eupsilia transversa)
1 Chestnut (Conistra vaccinii)


Nothing out of the usual but a very nice mixed March bag, the Small Quaker was new for the year.

A box of Quakers (and other spring moths) 

Great Spotted Woodpeckers drumming away at first light and the pair of Collared Doves mating again. One of our Robins was on the bird table early morning, feeding in the near dark

Robin on the bird table in the dark

House Sparrows only visit the garden occasionally, but they have never been regulars, still a single female was present this morning and 8 were on one of the nearby rooftops at the same time. The garden's resident Wood Mouse performed very well under the bird table as we both ate our breakfast this morning

Our resident Wood Mouse in the mist & drizzle this morning

Monday, 14 March 2011

Definitely a feel of spring this morning despite a rather heavy frost and freezing overnight temperatures which wisely put me off putting the moth trap out. Like yesterday, the bird table was particularly busy, with several Blackbird, Dunnock, Coal Tit and Chaffinch feeding, drinking & bathing at first light.

Chaffinch, Dunnock and Blackbird in the garden this morning

This bright sunny morning persuaded me to have a little look around before setting off for work. I only wandered into the South Burn woods and hung around the little overgrown pond at Brass Castle. There was a fair bit of activity on the common bird front and a lot of bird song. A pair of Long-tailed Tit were seen mating and several Jays were particularly noisy, presumably establishing their territories.  I was hoping I might get a singing Chiffchaff but it really still is a bit too early. There may be the odd butterfly on the wing today, but it was too early in the day  for anything like that when I was there. Several Goldcrest were flitting about, including one singing but they never stayed still enough for a decent photograph.

Peek-a-boo - This was the best of the Goldcrest views.
 I didn't stay very long myself, but long enough to watch a flock of 27 Golden Plover fly over, heading west. Most of these birds were in summer plumage but unlike most flocks around at this time of year they did not appear to be brightly marked northern birds making me think that these were of the southern race. This is the subspecies that breed on our moors and it would be nice to think that, that is where this little flock were heading.
Golden Plovers heading west.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

A better night's trapping

Not a bad night for moth trapping, especially as 24 hours ago the  forecast was gales and snow!  With a minimum temperature showing 5.6C and the willows not yet in flower,  I expected a reasonable catch when I checked late morning. However 25 moths of 8 species is very good I reckon considering the time of year. The breakdown of the catch was -
March Moth (1), Pale Brindled Beauty (1), Oak Beauty (2), Common Quaker (7), Clouded Drab (1), Twin-spotted Quaker (1), Hebrew Character (11) and Early Grey (1). The Clouded Drab and Twin-spotted Quaker were my first of the year, the latter my earliest ever by 6 days.
The Clouded Drab (above) &
Twin-spotted Quaker (below) caught overnight

The garden was lively with birds too this morning with Coal Tits in particular coming and going constantly. Though never more than two birds were seen at the same time, the amount of activity going on makes me believe there were a lot more than two birds involved.

One of a number of Coal Tits in the garden today.

Saturday, 12 March 2011

Quakers & Daffodils

Only 1 moth caught overnight - a Common Quaker, due to temperature dropping to 3.5C and heavy rain overnight. A common enough species in the spring but it was my first of the year which is always nice. Last night was the first time for many weeks I haven't heard any Tawny Owls when I listened. Again, probably due to the weather but they will be nesting now and I've found they do go a bit quiet once their territories are established again.

Common Quaker my first of the year
Being a bit busy (as well as the weather), I didn't have the time to have a wander today but I did give the Fell a little check. On the way back from shopping at Pity-Me,  I called in to the top car park to eat my McDonalds and watch the Community Conservation Team in action. Sorry, but I would have joined in and done a bit of Bilberry and Heather planting but I just didn't have the time.  The first few Daffodils have just opened up by the car park, despite the cloud and rain. These are not wild nor planted but presumably dumped from someone's garden - a result of botanical fly tipping! A small flock of 18 Siskin flew over and landed in the Downy Birches nearby. I took my rubbish home of course but unlike many by the looks of it, as Beaney Lane has empty McDonalds boxes and bags scattered along the whole length of it.

Tuesday, 8 March 2011

Woodcock dead & alive

A bright but cold start to the day and much bird song that included a drumming Great spotted Woodpecker and the distant yaffle of a Green Woodpecker from the vicinity of Waldridge village. It really did feel like spring and the first 'pussy willow' catkins of the Goat Willow are now out. It dropped to 0.2C last night, so I rightly decided it was not worth putting the moth trap out
At work in Sunderland, I found a recently killed Woodcock, presumably a returning continental bird that just failed to set off back over the North Sea by flying into a window by the Marina. Very sad but tonight at dusk, just a few hundred metres from home I just happened to look up in time to see one of our resident Woodcocks fly over, heading towards the Hermitage woods. Seconds later a flock of Redpolls flew over in the same direction. I'm somewhat pleased they did not land in the Alders nearby as I didn't have my binoculars with me and it would have been very frustrating that I would not have been able to check them out properly.

Sunday, 6 March 2011

A new but difficult micro moth

I put the trap out on friday night and yesterday morning I checked it rather later than than I intended. Before I went into the garden, I had looked on the Northeast Moths Group Forum to see what others had caught as this was the first night of the year for trapping for the Garden Moth Scheme. It appears that maybe it had been a bit milder due to the cloud, than some places, with a minimum temperature overnight of 3.7C according to the Waldridge Weather Station (ie my Christmas present in the garden.
A Coal Tit was hanging around close to the trap, but there was no sign of any remains of moths so probably he was unsuccessful and I expected to be the same. Therefore I was pleasantly surprised to find that there were 9 moths of 5 species, including 3 identical micro-moths that I could not identify in the trap.
They were :-

2 March Moth (Alsophila aescularia)

1 Pale Brindled Beauty (Phigalia pilosaria)

1 Oak Beauty (Biston strataria)

2 Hebrew Character (Orthosia gothica)
and 3 micro moths all of which are shown below

Even after checking I could not put a name to the 3 micros, all which had an unusual dark patch on the underside. Fortunately there is always help at hand and Tim Barker quickly and correctly identified them as a dark form of the micro moth Tortricodes alternella after I said I needed help on the forum. This species was new to me though it has been recorded well over 30 times in the county. It is one of the earliest of the micro moths to appear and I did consider it but had not appreciated how dark they can get. So a new one for me, and three of them at once to boot.

Early this morning the Great spotted Woodpecker was drumming very close by, and the Tawny Owl that I first heard last night just past 19:00hrs was still calling 11 hours later.

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Wood Mouse - Day II

The Wood Mouse paid another visit this morning in the half-light despite the frost and temperature only just above zero. I managed to get a few shots but it was really too dark to get a decent photograph.

Apart from that and a Lesser Black-backed Gull that flew over Garden Farm there was nothing else of note today.