Sunday, 15 May 2022

Putting in a stint or five for the WeBS count

Well, I didn't expect to finish my WeBS count this morning by adding FOUR Temminck's Stints to it - but that's what happened!

John Day, an RSPB friend from Bedfordshire and his pal Darren joined us at Druridge this morning, they are up here for a weekends birding. When we joined them just after 7am they'd already seen more species than you can see in a month in Bedfordshire!

It was WeBS count day, so I counted the ducks whilst they enjoyed watching spoonbill, little stint, avocets, pintail, dunlins, lapwing chicks and other nice species. Little stint was new for the year so I was already happy with that. Count done and all three hides checked we headed back to the cars. They were off to the Harthope Valley whilst Janet and I opted for a look on the sea. Seeing very little, I checked my phone to see a missed call from Steve Holliday, and a text message - 'four Temminck's Stint in front of Budge Screen'. Seemingly they'd just dropped in. 

We called John and Darren who were still faffing at their car and rushed to the hide, where, thankfully, the four birds could be seen on the edge of the pool. The four of them stuck pretty-close together and fed frantically along the muddy edge. I always think the 'gait' of Temminck's is quite diagnostic, they almost creep on their 'knees' as if their legs are set too far back on their bodies. They were chased by a redshank a couple of times, and then, without cause or warning, they were off, zig-zagging at first before flying off high and directly north. Steve and I thought that this might be a record count of this species for the County? These were my first patch Temminck's since two were on a pool by the coal haul road back in 2013. 

Record shot  - just to prove there were four!

A slightly better shot of two of them

And one flying off

A very pleasant end to a morning's birding. Big thanks to Steve H for the tip-off.

The Budge Fields are looking fab at the moment. Despite the relatively dry spring, the water levels remain very high, something has changed with the hydrology of the site this winter I think. Birds are dropping in all the time, not long after we left a wood sandpiper was reported. The 'Channel' wagtail that I found on Friday was seen again today.

Here are a few more pics from the last couple of days.

Proud parent on guard

And here's the reason why!

You can see why barn swallows were called bluebirds!

Spoonbills are now a common spring and summer species on the patch

Pochard are increasingly uncommon - the four that are on site at the moment are most unusual nowadays
The geese took a dislike to two roe deer who wandered through the pool. Roe deer are on the increase, almost plague-proportions these days.

My Druridge patch year-list is now on 130 and my 5km from home list is on 157. 

Monday, 21 March 2022

March WeBS

We arrived back from a week away in Cornwall (and a brief visit to the Somerset Levels) yesterday evening, twitching the long-staying belted kingfisher in Lancashire on the way home. It was my first time birding in Cornwall and I really enjoyed it. The Avalon Marshes were pretty spectacular too. We saw some good species including Kumlien's gull, yellow-legged gull, firecrest, ring ouzel, chough (13 from our accommodation was the peak count), black restarts, rosy starling and black-necked grebes.

I was back on the patch before work this morning to do the WeBS Count. There was plenty to count on the Budge fields which were full of birds. Wigeon was the numerous duck species with 257 counted. I'd just finished counting what I thought was them all, when this male marsh harrier appeared over the pools and scattered everything. It was soon apparent that there were a lot more wigeon than I had originally counted, so I had to start again.

Male marsh harrier in the morning sunshine

Looking for food

A decent count of 35 shoveler and a single pale-bellied brent goose was on the fields before flying north. 

Pale-bellied brent goose

Avocet had been reported from the patch whilst I was away in Cornwall but there were none this morning. Five ruff, three black-tailed godwit, 31 curlew and 17 snipe were notable. There was no sign of the jack snipe that's been around for a few days. 

From the little hide I picked up the water pipit that's been seen over the weekend. It had either bee bathing or walking through the frosty grass as it looked a bit bedraggled. It's starting to look a bit 'pinky' on the breast I think.

Water pipit
Looking a bit bedraggled

Chifchaff was the only migrant passerine 'new in' and two siskins by the Budge hide were notable for late March. 

Friday, 7 January 2022

Raven - an unexpected patch tick

 A new species for the patch this afternoon and quite unexpected  - Raven!

The circumstances were quite fortuitous. I was on the patch for work this afternoon. Our wonderful Coast Care team were working on behalf of National Trust, doing some coppicing in the bushes and I popped down to meet them and thank them for their hard work. After they left I had a quick look on the sea,  a very late lunch-break. A black-throated diver was way to the south, a great northern diver flew south and a couple of great crested grebes were on the sea - all good stuff. I got a call from Mark Whittingham to say that he had found a white-fronted goose, probably a Greenland race bird, in the pink-footed flock in the front-field at the farm. 

I'd noticed the PFG flock on my way to meet the team and did think they would be worth a look through. 

When I got there, the light was awful, looking straight into the setting sun, but I picked up the white-front in the flock. The bill looked orange, but not a 'huge carrot' and the legs looked stout and orange so I assumed Greenland race, but the light was dreadful.

I scanned through the pink foots further south, into better light, looking for something different, and I found something completely different! A huge corvid in amongst the geese, it looked almost as big as the geese! Raven surely. It was facing away but when it turned it's head, the huge deep bill confirmed it as a full patch tick. Species 253 for the patch. 

The brute

digi-scoped record shots

Not a species I was expecting to see, but maybe it should have been more on my radar? The range is increasing and they're breeding on the coast further north from us now. Janet saw one recently at Snab Point, so maybe this was the same bird?

It was quite funny, as when I had been with the Coast Care team earlier, one of them was using a pair of loppers that sounded like the 'cronk' of a raven, which caught me out a couple of times. I mentioned to him that raven would be a new bird for the patch  - little did I know what was to come!

Photos of the white-fronted goose circulated by Mark are inconclusive so it might be 'un-raced' until I get a better look. hopefully on the bird race tomorrow.

Saturday, 1 January 2022

Tradition dictates

Tradition dictates that on my first visit to the patch of the year, I'll find a species that I hadn't seen on the patch in the previous year. This happens most years. And guess what? It happened again today.

I've not seen yellowhammer on the patch since 24th November 2019 so to find a flock of eight in the hedge behind Druridge Farm was a real surprise.  I was beginning to think that they were locally extinct.

Today was unseasonably mild, 12 degrees C, but it was very windy from the SW. Janet and I had a good wander around the patch and managed to see 53 species in total. Highlights included a southbound great northern diver offshore, two woodcock flushed from the bushes, at least 300 Linnet and 200 chaffinch in the dunes and eight stock doves.

There was a lot of people though. It was like a July Sunday with cars abandoned at the site entrance and hundreds of people on the beach. 

The beach was busier than it looks in this photo!

The ringed plover flock that roosts on the beach at the south of the patch had no chance to settle and just flew back and forth, looking to rest. 

Ringed Plovers looking for somewhere to rest - no chance today.

I finished 2021 on a credible 167 species for the patch, which, given how poor an autumn it was wasn't too bad. Usual autumn stuff like pied and spotted flycatchers, garden warber, yellow-browed warbler, redstart and whinchat all missing from my list.

I also concentrated a bit more on the 5km patch challenge because of covid-lockdown. I saw 191 species within 5km of home which was nine more than the next patches. Ellington is obviously a good place to live if you're a birder. I'll continue with the 5km challenge this year as it does add a bit of variety to my birding.

I'm hoping to keep the blog updated more regularly too. My work/life balance needs some adjustment I think.

Today's list on eBird

Passing Curlew

Monday, 29 November 2021

The calm after the storm

Storm Arwen well and truly lashed the Northumberland coast on Friday night into Saturday morning. A northerly wind reaching nearly 160 kph came from beyond Svalbard, straight down the North Sea to hit us square-on. 

In theory, seawatching was on the cards for Saturday as winds eased. Instead we awoke to devastation. Trees blocking roads and various bits of neighbours houses in our garden. It was still very windy, very cold and and occasionally snowy or windy. I didn't fancy a session at Snab Point, especially after spending the morning helping our neighbour with his shed roof.

The assumed influx of little auks didn't really happen so when Sunday morning dawned bright and calm we headed for the patch to check out the destruction. The bushes were virtually unscathed, years of coppicing leaving less prone to being blown over. The Oddie hide however wasn't so lucky.

We have lift-off! Open-top bird hide

Room with a view

The roof had come off in a single piece and was lying nearly 50m away in the Budge fields. Impressive!

Not good.

Not related, this mute swan wasn't lucky either. I can't be sure the storm did for it or Avian Influenza which is prevalent at the moment.

Not so lucky

It was ringed and Andy Rickeard soon got back to us with the details. It was ringed a cygnet at Testo's Roundabout on the A19 (unusual swan habitat) in July 2016 and has been a regular at QEII Country Park since 2017. 


We didn't see much else at Druridge, a winter skylark was noteworthy, so we headed home for lunch.

wind-sculpted sand dunes

No sooner were we back when news broke of a potentially twitchable BrĂ¼nnich's guillemot being tracked up the coast. With no time to get Newbiggin, we headed for Snab. 

I hadn't set my scope for long, when I got onto a bird heading north that looked the biz. I alerted Janet to it  - it looked very 'black and white' with a black head but it was the shape and jizz that made it stand out (it travelled on its own), it was dumpy, almost barrel shaped, it looked really white with more white on the flanks than a common guille (or maybe there was just more flanks with it appearing so deep chested).The underwings where strikingly white and it showed a white 'armpit' as the wings whirred around. I was surprised that it had arrived as quickly and hadn't been reported from Newbiggin, I checked my phone to see that it had been seen at Newbiggin, five minutes before we saw picked it up off Snab. 

We watched it into the bay as it headed towards Coquet Island - it was motoring. It was quite distinctive compared to the guillemots and razorbills that followed. It's dumpy shape (described by one of the Newbiggin seawatchers as looking like a 'rugby ball'). What a bird! I've seen them in Iceland and Arctic Norway on the breeding grounds but it was brilliant to see one on home turf. 

We stayed for 45 minutes and added a couple of little auks, two great northern and a handful red-throats to the list. It was odd seeing shelducks on a seawatch, we counted seven. We then had to go to Chibburn to look at an injured barn owl reported by the farmer. 

It's been an odd week for weather, last weekend was cold and wintery but by midweek we watching many wasps on hoverflies feeding on ivy. Hoverflies in late November aren't common.

Eristlalis sp - probably E. pertinax on Ivy

moody-skies at Druridge last weekend

Sunday, 14 November 2021

I am the Walrus!

The plan this morning was to put some low nets up in the dunes to the north of the turning circle to catch and ring twite. Light rain at first light literally put a dampener on that. Plan B was to go out for a wander somewhere when news broke via the local grapevine of a Walrus at Seahouses. It wasn't April 1st. Andy Douglas posted pics of a young walrus on the rocks in Seahouses harbour.

We were soon on our way.

Arriving in the harbour,  a small crowd had gathered and more looked on from above. We could see thw walrus from the car as we drove along the harbour, a brown hulk on top of the rocks. We parked-up and walked along the harbour for better views - and we got them!




Seemingly this Walrus has recently been in the Netherlands and Germany, a young female who now goes by the name of Freya... This was confirmed by a mark on her flipper. Presumably she came overnight at high tide. This is the first record for northeast England.

We watched her for an hour or so, she didn't move much, just occasionally looking up when a boat went by. At one point it looked as though she was purposefully shielding her eyes from the sun. 

too bright to sleep

Walrus - a first for me, but I would never have predicted one in Seahouses Harbour mind. More like one of David Steel's legendary April Fools gags than reality. 

The Eiders drakes were already displaying to the ducks 'ahuuu'

Very smart drake Eider

We headed to Bamburgh for seafood and and then a look off Stag Rocks where a Back Guillemot was showing well just offshore. We didn't see the long-staying Bonaparte's gull which was seen again later in the day.

It's been quiet on the patch. 80 Twite in the dunes was the highlight of yesterday's walk and last weekend we saw four snow bunting on the beach. Days are short now, so birding either side of work is difficult. 

Tuesday, 19 October 2021

Thrushes, Little Gulls and Waxcaps

 I was sat at my desk, in my loft-office at home, yesterday afternoon, the velux windows were open as it was mild and by 4pm I could hear redwings over the house, seeeeep, seeeep.

I popped my head out to see a flock of 80 flying just over our rooftop and then another 40 or so. I tried to work but by 4.30 I could concentrate no more and headed for the patch. When I arrived, redwings were coming over but quite high.  I thought I would check the plantation and entrance bushes first for grounded migrants until I read a Whatsapp message from Shaun Robson - 81 little gull off Druridge Links. Surely a typo?

I asked him to confirm and he replied to say 'yes' he had counted 81 little gulls offshore. I headed for the Dune. Shaun and I must've passed as he wasn't there when I arrived (he'd gone to Cresswell) but the little gulls were still there, well at least 50-60 of them, it was hard to keep track as some moved off south, some loafed on the sea whilst others fed. I would guess that 95% were adults. Easily a patch record count for this species.

The thrushes kept coming but in smaller numbers, I was watching them coming ashore from a long way out, mostly redwings with a few blackbirds. At least four brambling also came in-off.  No fieldfares yet. A great northern diver was on the sea. 

I stayed until dark, by which time, thrush movement had stopped, but another brambling came over. As darkness fell, unknown numbers of pink-footed geese arrived on Budge fields.

I love to see this visible migration of winter thrushes arriving over the sea and always find it amazing that after such a long and perilous journey, that they don't make landfall at the first opportunity. I tracked a small group which just kept going towards Widdrington and probably beyond.

No visits to the patch today but yesterdays arrival was still evident in the Goswick and Beal areas with many grounded thrushes, bramblings and robins and a few reed buntings which I presume are incoming birds too?

There are a few waxcaps in the dunes, by the side of the paths, which I think are 'dune waxcap' -  Hygrocybe conicoides

Dune waxcap?