Monday, 21 September 2020

Busy but quiet on the patch

The forecast suggested easterly winds and dry conditions on both Saturday and Sunday and we planned to get some nets up and ring birds on both days. A light mizzly, sometimes drizzly rain overnight and into Sunday morning prevented us doing anything on Sunday but we managed some ringing on Saturday.

It was a bit quiet though,  the wind was out of the east but it was bright and breezy and we only had four nets up so we only caught 19 new birds. A light passage of Meadow Pipits continued and we managed to catch four of them. A single Chiffchaff was the only warbler.

Meadow pipit - all four were juvenile birds

We went birding on Sunday morning as we couldn't put any nets up. Despite the wind being out of the east and overnight drizzle it didn't drop any birds in and was as quiet as Saturday had been. The WeBS count didn't take much doing - for some reason, despite the mud on the Budge fields, it's not attracting waders. There was decent Meadow Pipit and Skylark passage and when we got to the beach, there were 25 Meadow Pipits feeding on the seaweed around the Dunbar Burn - and a Wheatear.

Stonechat in the mizzle
Meadow Pipit on the beach

In the dunes to the north there is still a decent flock of Linnets and Goldfinches. It's not always the same flock as some days there are Linnets than Goldfinches and other days it's the opposite. As we walked along the cycle path, I got onto a bunting on the track, briefly, before it flew. There were a few reed buntings about but this was different - in the second or two I had it in my bins, the rufous cheeks stood out. 

The bunting bugged me all afternoon, at least it took my mind off the awful football game I was watching. I headed back after the footie for a mooch. Nothing on the fenclines or track so I headed into the dunes, there were a lot of finches still and a few Pipits and Reed Buntings. I put a bird up as I walked which gave off the distinctive call of a Lapland Bunting when it flew. It landed in a bare area and I got reasonable views of it before it flew it again I lost it behind a dune-hump. My first on the patch since 2010!

Wheatears were on the fence and on the beach still, but it was nearly dark when I took this.

Wheatear on the beach in the gloom of late evening

My pre-morning walk today was much busier and at times I didn't know where to concentrate on. I stepped out of the car to see a tit flock moving through the whitebeams, there was a few Chiffchaff amongst them and Yellow-browed Warbler - my first of the year and my earliest ever by one day! It was really active, chasing the Chiffs and Blue Tits. It and the tits moved off south as did I.

There were more Chiffs, at least 18,  in the bushes as well as four Blackcap, Lesser Whitethroat and Whitethroat. Overhead small groups of Siskin, Meadow Pipit, Lesser Redpoll and Skylark flew over - eight Skylark appeared to come in-off the sea as did 38 Pink-footed Geese.

One of 18 Chifchaffs

Another Meadow Pipit

Young Stonechat

Chaffinch - not common this year

Save for six Curlew there were no waders or duck on the virtually dry Budge fields, maybe because a juvenile Marsh harrier was sat on the big post? It took off and had a go at one of the many Pheasants and I managed a couple of shots. It appeared to have a metal ring on its right leg.

Juvenile Marsh Harrier over the Budge field

With an eye on a pheasant

No waders here

This evening I had a look on the sea after work, It was high tide and a big spring tide so I hoped for displaced waders passing, none of those but I did have a trio of grebes.

There's been two Great-crested Grebes, an adult and a juvenile for a few weeks, they hang about with the Scoter flock and I've watched the adult moult into winter garb and the juvenile loose a bit of its stripy look in that time.  Just beyond the Scoters, I picked up another, smaller grebe - a Slavonian Grebe in winter plumage - a regular in the Bay but nice to see. As I counted the Red-throated Divers (28 in total), I found another grebe, close to the Slavonian grebe - a Red-necked Grebe, also in winter plumage. 

At times the two grebes were together giving a great opportunity to compare these two similar looking grebes. The red-neck, slightly bigger than the Slav and not as clean, crisp looking, much darker around the face and neck with a more sloping forehead.  

So it's been a busy few days even though the birding has been quiet at times, but some nice birds made up for it. 

All my lists are on eBird

Thursday, 17 September 2020

Aborted Seawatch

After yesterday's northerly winds I though I would try a seawatch this morning -early reports from coastal watchpoints looked favourable. I arrived just after sunrise and headed for my spot in the dunes.

It was a beautiful morning - too beautiful for seawatching. 

Stunning morning but no good for seawatching

The bright early sun was low in the eastern sky, already lighting up the sea and there was a slight haziness. All the birds, even those close-in were just silhouettes, it was hopeless, my notes would've read Skua sp, Shearwater sp, even Gull sp. I did manage to ID three Red-throated Divers on their silhouettes before packing in and heading for the bushes. 

I headed south, picking up a couple of Chiffs, but not much else. A few Meadow Pipits headed south including a flock of about 20, 77 Pink-footed Geese went south in two groups and 11 Skylark went North!. This glakey Pheasant nearly flew into me before crash landing into a Swedish Whitebeam tree.

Glake

There are so many Pheasant around at the moment - 34 is my top count this week. A Chiffchaff was chiff-chaffing in the tree at the farmhouse. In the plantation, I picked up on a calling Pied Flycatcher  - my first of the Autumn but not a year-tick after the very unseasonable bird in late June

By the entrance,  a couple of Blackcaps and a Whitethroat fed on Elderberries and Goldcrest - a true Autumn bird at Druridge - flitted around. 

Heading north back to the car, I found a second Pied Flycatcher in the small wood. 

Pied Flycatcher - one of two

Pied Flycatchers aren't even annual birds at Druridge, averaging about every third year, so to see two made up for the lack of a seawatch. Full list here

I did try a brief seawatch this evening, but the wind had switched SE and it was quiet. About 120 Kittiwake fed distantly offshore and a handful of Manx Shearwaters went north with a similar number of Red-throated Divers headed South. 



Wednesday, 16 September 2020

What a difference a day makes

Two days couldn't have been more contrasting. Yesterday morning I was walking on the beach in a T shirt at 8am, today it was so cold, the winter coat came out!

The wind switched into the north overnight and the temperature dropped like a stone. A northerly at this time of year normally means seawatching and mid afternoon reports were coming in of Sabine's Gulls and Leach's Petrels from coastal watchpoints  - I was stuck in the office until 17.45. I eventually made it to my dune look-out by 18.05 - the light was poor and the birds were distant. It was getting dark after an hour and I was freezing cold so I quit then.

Highlights -2 Sooty Shearwaters, 1 Bonxie, 4 Manx, 4 Pale-bellied Brent, 27 Teal, 3 Red-throated Divers, 1 Shoveler and 25 Sandwich Terns. An Arctic Skua was harassing Kittiwakes offshore, it even had a go at a large juvenile gull, chasing it very high into the sky before giving up. Three Mediterranean Gulls went South.

There were flocks of Kittiwakes, moving north but stopping to feed, but they were way-out. Not good for Sabine's spotting. There were about 400 Common Scoter still on the sea.

Tonight's full list here

Monday and Tuesday mornings I've had a walk around the patch, both mornings were quite good for vizmig, with Meadow Pipits still dominating. 

In an hour on Monday I counted 328 Meadow Pipits headed south, some stopped to feed, rest and drink. I heard two Tree Pipits amongst them as well as 23 Swallows, 11 Skylarks and 1 Grey Wagtail.

Resting Meadow Pipit

In the dunes beyond the Dunbar Burn, a big finch flock has built up numbering around 180 birds. I estimated 65% Goldfinch and 35% Linnet but it could be 60/40. Yesterday, they were spooked and all got up and six birds flew out from the flock calling - Lesser Redpolls. It was almost as if they'd been roosting with flock overnight.

Young Stonechat

My usual route these mornings takes me north along the road/coal road to the edge of the patch and back along the beach, returning to the car by the road. There's usually not much to see on the beach or sea with just bins, other than the Sanderlings feeding busily along the tideline. The noise of the sea drowns out any vizmig.

I promise this is a colour image - Sanderling feeding on the shore

Red-throated Diver offshore

Mondays list

Tuesdays List

Thursday, 10 September 2020

Pink-foots herald the arrival of winter

It was a chilly six degrees when I arrived on the patch this morning, the brisk westerly wind made it feel colder despite the sunshine. A flock of about 70 Pink-footed Geese arrived on the Budge fields, freshly arrived from their Arctic breeding rounds to spend the winter here. My first of the winter on the patch - we heard some last night nearer home when we were ringing a late brood of Barn Owls.

For me the sound of Pink-footed Geese coming ans going over the patch as they fly from roosts to feeding areas is the sound of winter. It just feels a bit early! (this is my earliest autumn County record by six days).

The cold start meant that birds were making the most of the sunny side of the bushes to warm up and catch insects. Plenty of Chiffchaffs still, I counted 21 and at least six of them were singing - young males trying to sort their chiffs and their chaffs I fancy. 

Smart Chiffchaff among the Whitebeam berries

More of a scruffy moulting bird

A single Spotted Flycatcher and Lesser Whitethroat also being noteworthy. In the big Elderberry bush, the berries are just ripening and it had attracted three Blackcaps and a Song Thrush. I hope they leave some for the Barred Warbler!

Spotted Flycatcher
Same bird - different perch
and fly-catching as Flycathcers do

Overhead there was a moderate passage of Meadow Pipits and two flocks of Siskin -  30 and nine. A Grey Wagtail went north - my second of the Autumn. Still no Collared Dove though!

Hirrundine passage was light with just a handful of Sand and House Martins and few Swallows.

In the 'Front Field' at Druridge Farm there are some enormous Giant Puffballs - they grow here every year and 34 Pheasants! 

Football-sized Puffball

Mystery bird - everyday is a schoolday

Everyday is a schoolday, well today was certainly a schoolday for me. 

Picture the scene...

I arrive early at Druridge, the sun has just come up over the sea, so it's not over the dunes yet and it's gloomy still. I step out of the car and hear a bird singing from the bushes - I think I recognise it, but I'm not sure and certainly can't put a species to it. I go and investigate,  I can't record it because the voice recorder app on my phone hasn't updated or something - typical.  the song was almost Sylvia warbler like, but 'jangly' and metallic like a corn bunting. The bird is still deep in cover. 

Something flies out of the willow and lands close by,  I fire off a few shots but it's not properly light - ISO 3200 so not great. I'm still stumped. Looks like a dumpy warbler with thick pink legs, Cetti's have thick pink legs...but it wan't right for Cetti's. I was still stumped, so I sent a very poor BoC shot to a couple of people. It never showed again and stopped singing a soon as the sun came out. I continued on.

I downloaded the photos this evening and lightened them up a bit. Not a Cetti's - that's for sure. Was it a Locustella warbler? It looked un-streaked and the pink legs and song threw me off the trail. Was it a warbler at all, could it be a Sprosser? Some of it looked right for Sprosser, some didn't. I sent the photos to Mike Carr and Neil Osbourne to see if they could help. 

Mystery Bird
A different angle

We chewed over the possibility of Sprosser but something didn't look right but what was it? Neil went back to Locustella, on closer examination of the photo, some of the coverts appear to have dark centers and Grasshopper Warblers can have pink rather than orange-pink legs. Did the gloom just make it look dark and what about that song?

Neil eventually nailed it with a song from Xeno Canto - which is exactly what I heard - a sub-song of a juvenile Grasshopper Warbler, I've never heard this before. Here is a link to the song https://www.xeno-canto.org/579804 - it's worth a listen.

As they say, you live and learn, especially in birding. Big thanks to Mike and Neil for their help.

There were a lot of Chiffchaffs this morning on the sunny edge of the bushes, I counted at least 12 between the path and the Dunbar Burn. There was also Reed Warbler, Whitethroat and Blackcap and two Spotted Flycatchers

One the many Chiffchaffs
And another looking at a fly

Reed Warbler

One of two Spotted Flycatchers

There was less viz-mig than previous mornings but the Meadow Pipit passage increased as the morning went on (I left at 08.30 with a count of 58) and a single Tree Pipit went over. Hardly any hirrundines though and most of the Swallows were local birds. 

There were a lot of birds around the new-ish ditch by the Dunbar Burn, using the fence as a perch. Meadow Pipits were stopping to drink and bathe and they were joined by a single juvenile Whinchat, Linnets, Goldfinches, Skylark, Reed Buntings and Stonechats. Worth watching this ditch I reckon, it could get a Bluethroat.

This Robin was enjoying the early sunshine - I've read that they do this rid themselves of parasites. 

Robin - enjoying the sun

Full list here

More photos...

Small White

Speckled Wood

Kestrel over

Tuesday, 8 September 2020

Way west

There's been no updates for while because I've been west, way west, in fact at one point as far west as you can get in mainland Britain - Ardnamurchan Point. We were staying on the Morvern Peninsula for a week but traveled around Sunart, Adrnamurchan and over to Mull a couple of times. It's a beautiful area but it is a lot wetter than here in the east and we got wet a few times.

Doirlinn
Heading for Sanna Bay

It was nice to get back to Druridge and stand on the dune and have the north on my left where it belongs. I've been down to the patch everyday since I back. 

Janet and I had brief wander on Saturday after our long drive south. Offshore the Scoter flock numbered 400-450 and there were six Red-throated Divers with them. This ship - the Normand Clipper has taken up residence in the Bay, seemingly it is to do with the new connector cable to Norway. 

The Normand Clipper

On Sunday afternoon,  it was quite warm with sunny spells, Chris Barlow let me know he'd seen a new hover for the patch so I went looking. I didn't see it but saw some other species and a couple of interesting other beasties. 45 plus Goldfinch rattled around me whilst I was hunkered down with the macro lens and a whimbrel flew south. 

Hoverfly Eristalis intricaria (worn female)
Female Helophilus pendulus
Eupeodes latifasciatis (f)
I think this might be one of the Lauxaniid Marsh Flies?
22-Spot Ladybird

When the sun went, I had a look offshore and three Sooty Shearwaters went north and the Red-throated Diver count was up to ten. 

On Monday evening Janet and I had a walk through up to the north of the patch and back by the beach. Our first bird was colossal female Sparrowhawk coming off the dunes. Further north we had Buzzards and a juvenile Marsh Harrier

This morning, my pre-work wander didn't get me far as there was some good vizmig going on. First birds heard were a small flock of Siskin going south. As I walked along the road, good number of Meadow Pipits, Sand Martins and House Martins flew south. A single Tree Pipit went south, calling and by the Dunbar burn there were two Wheatears and a juvenile Whinchat with a gang of resting Meadow Pipits and Linnets. 

A few Herring Gull loafed just offshore and this second winter bird gave good views in nice light and I found what I think is a dead Manx Shearwater on the beach. 

Second-winter Herring Gull
Dead Manx Shearwater

I estimated the following counts in my 45 minutes or so of counting

75 Sand Martin

57 House Martin

86 Meadow Pipits

32 Siskin (in three groups)

17 Swallow

1 Tree Pipit

This evening, I had a quick look on the sea, there wasn't much to report but this Chinook Helicopter gave good views as it passed low over the dunes. 

Chinook
Sanderlings on the beach this evening - adult and juvenile

Friday, 28 August 2020

Seawatching and some thoughts on it.

With strong northerlies forecast overnight and early morning I suspected I might be seawatching today especially as I had the day off work. When I woke at 6am it was lashing it down with rain, I turned over and went back to sleep, If I'd had to go to work, I would've got up and gone anyway but I had the luxury of more time.

I eventually arrived at my dune watchpoint at 9am, it was too windy to stand on the dune ridge so I hunkered down in the dunes on a useful perch as I could be sometime.

The first bird I saw was a Bonxie, close in too. There wasn't a lot of action until pretty much the second notable bird I got onto was a skua,  a bit further out than the Bonxie, quite distant. A grey bird against the sea with a more languid tern-like flight - Juvenile Long-tailed Skua! My fifth of the year incredibly. 

It was steady after that, Manx Shearwaters coming through in little groups or singles and a few Sooty Shearwaters including a single group of six together about half-way out. There were a few distant Skuas that went unidentified - that's one of the problems with Druridge but a couple Arctic skuas were closer and one came into the bay to harass terns and a couple more Bonxies came through. A drake Velvet Scoter came in very close, north,  on its own and a group of ten Pale-Bellied Brent were also really close.

By 9.45am I was regretting not getting up earlier, the sky brightened and the sun even threatened to come out and the sea went 'silvery' - not good, anything more than half way out was unidentifiable. I was temped to pack up but visibility improved a bit as a cloud came over so I hung on. I was pleased that I did as the bird of the day, and one of my best seawatching experiences at Druridge happened soon after. 

A bird flew north, close-in and therefore low in my scope-view, so it passed through quickly, but it looked interesting and I tried tracking it through the troughs in the breakers, a shearwater, pale on the undersides but 'dumpy looking'. It was flying really slowly, moving back and forth, passing over and through the scoter flock, looking like it was feeding amongst them. It wasn't a Sooty, it had a pale belly anyway but the jizz was altogether wrong and it didn't have the contrast dark/white of a Manx and it just didn't look right.I was sure it was Balearic Shearwater. It landed among the Scoters briefly, before making a short flight and landing again, it did this three or four times, only landing for a few seconds before taking another short flight.These short flights gave good views when it wasn't in a trough and the dusky underwing, darker 'armpits' and dumpy appearance confirmed my initial ID. Eventually it moved off north, slowly again, feeding as it went. In hindsight I probably could have had a record shot of it, but I was too busy 'enjoying the bird'. This was my fifth Balearic at Druridge but by far the best views I've had of one here and my first since I saw two on 5th September 2013.

By 10:40, the light had really gone. I kept going until 11:05 to get the two-hours in and saw a few more birds including some Teal and a Golden Plover picked up on call just over the breakers, but it was high-tide. 

It was interesting to compare my figures with  headland watchpoints to the north and south of me. Obviously being in the middle of a bay I miss out on birds but I seem to miss out on some species more than others, Bonxies are a good example. I saw five in two hours today, Mark Eaton had 13 at Boulmer, Jack Bucknall had 13 (3 1/2 hours) at St. Mary's and Ben Steel had 19 in two and a half hours at Howick. 

I think powerful birds like Bonxies and to some degree Poms (I didn't see one today) don't drift into the Bay, they just take a straight line from Snab Point to Coquet Island so are too distant for me. I do better for Arctics than some headlands because the terns feeding in the bay draw them in and largely comparable for Long-tailed Skuas which seem to hug the coast more, or even curt off headlands (I've seen them do this at Church Point). Likewise, I do okay for Manx (and today for Balearic) shearwaters but struggle with the bigger Shears, with only one Cory's (in 2005) and no Great Shears ever. 

Despite the disadvantages of being in a bay, I'd swap a dozen of any of those species at Church Point for jut one on the patch. Above all, I love a good seawatch!

Highlights 09:05-11:05 (all N) (Full list here)

Pale-bellied Brent 12 (10N 2S)

Teal 56

Velvet Scoter 1 (drake)

Bonxie 5

Arctic Skua 4

Skua sp 6

Long-tailed Skua 1 (juv)

Golden Plover 1

Sooty Shearwater 11 

Manx Shearwater 24+

Balearic Shearwater 1

Two photos taken as I was packing up.

Adult Lesser Black-backed Gull

and juvenile