30DaysWild: a recent roundup

Though I started off well, my #30DaysWild posts seem to have faded over the past few weeks. This due to some wild commitments elsewhere – blog post to follow shortly – and not due to laziness or disinterest. Despite this, and in keeping with the theme of the month, I have persisted in my efforts to do something a little wild every day, and in doing so, have found myself face to face with some truly remarkable wildlife. From nocturnal wonders and scarce birdlife to butterflies, flowers and some rather cool fish, the highlights of the last fortnight can be found in this post.

Nocturnal Antics

Just over a week ago, I set off for a secluded plantation in inland Northumberland: arriving at the site just after 9 pm and spending a few hours engrossing myself in the best of the British nighttime. By this, of course, I mean Nightjars – with a total of three individuals seen during my stay. Among these, a particularly obliging bird which showed marvellously, singing its otherworldly song from the top of a quivering spruce. This encounter marking only my second experience of this species and easily my most enjoyable: the sight and sound of the elusive bird standing out not just as a highlight of the year, but of my entire birding career to date. They really are fantastic!

Of course, Nightjars were not all to be seen here, and during our stay, we were lucky enough to catch up with Tawny Owl, Woodcock, Crossbill and Cuckoo: with the equally enthralling sound of a drumming Snipe heard as we made our way back to the car. I should head out at night more often… *pens plan for future blog posts*

Chance encounters

Although there has not been much time to chase rarities of late, I have managed three targeted jaunts this week. The first taking me to an unassuming pond not far from my house where, to my delight, a drake Ruddy Duck loafed on the water just out from my position by the road. The duck, blue-billed and clad head to toe in glorious rust-coloured feathers, representing a species I have never before seen in Britain which, despite its controversial nature – they are, after all, subject to a government lead cull at present – was enjoyed to its fullest potential. Who knows, it may well be the only Ruddy Duck I see in the UK anytime soon.

The other two outings mentioned focused on some less polarising residents- Black-Necked Grebe and Quail – both of which were seen (or at least, heard in the case of the latter) within the local area; thus adding a welcome touch of spice to my usually tame summer birding.


Ruddy Duck – excuse the dreadful phone image

Pastures new

The most recent of my explorations found me venturing to a new site in Northern Northumberland: into the mosaic of fields and hedgerows that surround the site at which we now keep our three horses. Ever critical of farmland – at least the plowed, poisoned empty deserts that exist in some places – I was pleasantly surprised to find the area teeming with life. Here a superb Yellow Wagtail was observed carrying food towards a hidden nest and a pair of Redstart could be seen feeding young inside a cavity. Both fabulous birds that I do not see half as often as I would like. The pleasant feel of the day amplified by sightings of a bounding Brown Hare, the song of countless Skylark and an up-close and personal encounter with a rather confiding Buzzard. Birds and mammals were not, however, the highlight of my time here: that honour going to the butterflies who, spurred on by the sweltering Summer sun, had emerged in abundance.

Here my first Meadow Browns and Ringlets of the year fluttered lazily across the grassy banks lining a small stream and both Wall and Small Tortoiseshell were noted sunning themselves on scant areas of bare rock. Numbers bolstered by the occasional occurrence of Large and Green-veined White and a very breif Speckled Wood. The best coming towards the end of my jaunt, where no less than twelve Large Skippers were unearthed along one particular field boundary. A delightful, energetic butterfly and one of my all time favourites – a pleasure to observe and enjoy in such bright and beautiful conditions.


Sensational Seabirds

As many diligent blog readers may know, I have spent the last few weeks marooned on the fantastic Farne Islands. Enjoying the clamour of a sprawling seabird colony as I endevor to complete my master’s dissertation. Well, I will focus on this at greater length in a future blog post though earlier this week – and thanks to a kind offer from Liz Morgan – I was able to help out with some proper seabird monitoring. Specifically, the ringing of Shag chicks to provide data for Liz’s PhD project. Words truly fail me when trying to sum up this experience: it was both a pleasure and privilege to see these serpentine seabirds up close and, despite leaving covered head to toe in putrid excrement, I departed with a huge smile on my face. I many be studying Puffins for my thesis but it seems that it is the islands Shags that have stolen the limelight.


Shag – always a pleasure


  1. ian and neil says:

    Good morning James

    I hope you don’t mind my contacting you. We live at Cambo and I think we met and spoke earlier in the year at Winters Gibbet when we were looking at the Hen Harrier which was about for a few days.

    I always enjoy reading your posts and hearing what you’ve seen recently but especially your last one which mentions your sighting of Nightjar. We’ve only seen them once before at Dunwich Heath and would love to see them again. We intend walking up into Harwood in the next week or so to see ( or hear ) if there are any around in some of the forest clearings. I moved back up to Northumberland recently with my partner Neil and we’re just discovering ( or rediscovering in my case) which are the best places to go for birds and nature in general, I wonder if you could give us some idea of where it was you had such good sightings of the Nightjars?

    On another topic, walking in Harwood just recently we saw a butterfly which we concluded was probably a Small Pearl-bordered Fritillary, we didn’t manage to get a photo and we’re very much novices with regards to butterflies and moths, they seem quite rare but just wondered if you knew if they were seen in the area?

    Again I hope you don’t mind us sending this and realise that with everything you seem to be doing at the moment that your time is precious but if you do get the chance it would be great to hear from you.

    Kind regards

    Ian Basnett

    1. James Common says:

      Hi Ian,

      Yes, I do believe we met! For Nightjar, the only place I have seen them is Winnows Hill – part of Slayley forest near Derwent Reservoir. Quite some way from where you guys are based, unfortunately. According to birdtrack they are seen with some regularity at Edlingham Crag, however – which is considerably nearer! There are reported sightings within the last two weeks.

      As for the butterfly, doubtless, it would have been a SPB Fritillary! They are scarce, but still quite frequent in upland environments – including on the edge of woodland. Lovely find, I still haven’t seen one in the county!

      Hope this helps! 🙂


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