Wednesday, 8 September 2021

Back to VizMigging

The wind moved into the west which brought an end to exciting seawatches. It's since turned south-s'easterly which can be good for VizMigging  -visible migration - which for me means observing and counting birds on their autumn migration from a single vantage point. I'm normally in Tarifa at this time for the most spectacular VizMig in western Europe, it wasn't to be this year...

Instead, my vantage point was the 'big dune' at Druridge this morning. No flocks of Honey Buzzards, Short-toed Eagles or White Storks but a great vantage point at the innermost part of the bay which funnels coasting birds in to one point. I only had an hour or so before work from 7.30am to 8.30am. The wind was light and the skies were clear.

Typical view of a passing Meadow Pipit

Meadow Pipits and Swallows were piling through as I arrived and continued to do so. House and Sand Martins came through in lower numbers with only a few Skylarks and Pied/White Wagtails. A few waders included 2 Ruff, Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit and four Snipe. 

The final tally for one hour was:

Barn Swallow - 557

Meadow Pipit - 288

House Martin - 36

Sand Martin - 14

Skylark - 4

Pied/White Wagtail - 2

The last couple of evenings have been warm, sunny and calm and I've had a couple of brief looks on the sea. Yesterday I photographed a wader coming in-off, it flew over my head as I photographed (I nearly went-over backwards) and had me stumped at first. Any guesses what it is?

Out of context wader

The Scoter flock numbers around 350 but is always changing, last night there were two Great-crested Grebes with them, tonight two Tufted Duck. The flock is constantly changing and requires regular scrutiny if a 'Surfy' is to be found. 

Tonight I had two treats, an aerial battle between an Arctic Skua and a young Sandwich Tern and a beautiful sunset. An adult and juvenile Roseate tern were nice as it won't be long until they're gone. 

Let battle commence
Off they go

Sunset, that's the Simonside Hills behind the turbines. 

Thursday, 2 September 2021

Still seawatching

Last week I was mostly seawatching. Well, since then, the wind has remained out of the north and I've continued to be 'mostly seawatching'.

I've had two sessions on the patch and two trips to Snab Point for rarer species, just to give myself a better chance of seeing them. 

On Tuesday evening I had a two-hour seawatch from the dunes at Druridge. It started quietly so I decided to count 'everything' - I don't normally do this, because, when you're counting a long string of Gannets, you might just miss a skua or shearwater slipping through. Anyhoo, I did count the Gannets - 977 in two hours, give or take. That's about 500/hour on average. 

Other highlights from Tuesday evening included:

Pale-bellied Brent - 7
Bonxie - 2
Arctic Skua - 1
Roseate Tern - 1
Sooty Shearwater - 2
Manx - 8
and a Grey Heron  - not a common sight on a seawatch.

On Wednesday afternoon, a Fea's type Pterodroma petrel was tracked north up the East Coast. It was due at Newbiggin after 5pm, but I was cutting it fine, leaving the office at ten-to, I headed for Snab Point. I hadn't even got my scope set up when news came through from Church Point. Six minutes later I picked it up about 2/3rds out turning and towering, I got a fella, Dave, who was also there onto it and we watched it for the full three-four minutes it took to pass us and head north into the Bay. Despite the distance, the light was fabulous and the dark 'V' from the wings to the back could be made out as it banked and turned. What a bird! Much better views than the one I saw from Druridge a few years ago. 

This morning, Janet and I were back at Snab Point before work. A juvenile Sabine's Gull had been tracked up the coast. Shortly after being reported at Newbiggin we got onto it, straight out, above the horizon. It was really obvious compared to the Kitti's we'd been watching coming through. A bit of a 'tick and run' - we headed back to work.

This evening I headed back to my dune perch, with a new bit of kit. A foldable camping seat. This one just has a back and base, no legs, so ideal if there is a dune to sit on. I've been standing recently but it's hard work standing for three hours, let alone six or seven. 

It started quiet. There weren't even many Gannets. 

About forty minutes in I picked up a pale-phase Skua to the south, about half way out, the flight was slow and buoyant and I fancied it was a Long-tailed Skua. As it came closer my suspicions were right, a beautiful dusky-grey and white adult long-tailed skua, drew level with me and continued north. What a bird!

It picked up after that, with a couple of Bonxies and Arctic Skuas, and then a group of five Arctic Skuas together at half-five, close-in. Two adult Pomarine Skuas had been tracked north and they promptly came through just before half-six. Nice pale birds complete with spoons. Three little gulls, more Arctic Skuas and four Purple Sandpipers went through.

It had turned into a canny seawatch. I was thinking of going home to make tea when a juvenile Sabine's Gull appeared in the bottom of my scope, filling it. It was close in!

Now this is where my new seat was my undoing...

The Sabine's was in my scope, it landed on the sea, I panicked looking for my phone to try and video it (as it was that close). The phone had fallen onto the sand, as I reached from my new seat for it, it shifted, so did I, and the scope went over. I set it back up but couldn't find the bird.  If I'd been standing up, as I have been for the last year or more, this wouldn't have happened. Frantic scanning of the sea where it was last seen and then, back on my feet with the scope set up properly, a prolonged scan yielded nothing. Gone! F'ing seat!

Two more tracked 'Poms' came through at 19:18 - both adults with spoons and four Little Gulls were on the sea, two adults and two juvs.  

During a quiet spell tonight, I contemplated the pros and cons of modern communications that allow birds to be tracked up the coast. This morning, when the Sabine's Gull was at Tynemouth, I knew I had time for a bowl of Muesli before heading for Snab Point. You can now twitch seabirds. Whilst this undoubtedly means that more people get to see rare seabirds, it does take some of the fun out seawatching. Even though my views of the Sabine's gull at Druridge were brief this evening, before falling off my new seat, I still enjoyed that experience more than the tracked bird at Snab Point this morning which gave prolonged views. 

Tracked birds still need to be found by someone. I love seawatching and still put the hours in when nothing is being seen. It doesn't work if everyone sits at home waiting for Whatsapp to ping. Long-tailed Skuas are my favourite skua (by far) so finding an adult tonight was a real treat, it wouldn't have been the same if I knew it was coming like I did with the Poms. As I said... Pros and cons.

Here's some gulls...

Juvenile Great Black-backed Gull

Adult Common Gull

Adult Great Black-backed Gull

Monday, 30 August 2021

Mostly Seawatching

 This week I've mostly been seawatching.

With the wind switching to the north for most of the week, I've been seawatching at every opportunity, I've even abandoned Druridge for Snab Point a couple of times for rarer species.

It all started last Sunday, I had an evening seawatch, the wind was NE but light but it was a good start.

Arctic Skua 2

Bonxie 2

Little Gull 1

Roseate Tern 3

Sooty Shearwater 1

Manx Shearwater 11

Two Velvet scoter with 460 Common.

Young Gannet

On Tuesday evening the seawatching was quiet but the light was amazing and it was nice to just watch the common species. A juvenile Black Tern going north was a nice year-tick.

Oystercatchers in evening sunlight - a mix of adults and juveniles.

Curlew in silhouette

On Thursday another evening seawatch was more productive. 12 Manx and four Sooty Shearwaters, a Great Norther Diver in summer plumage, four Roseate Terns and four Bonxies.

On Friday evening, the wind had dropped but was still NE and it was overcast. 18 Pale-bellied Brent Geese headed north were my first of the year on the patch. Seemingly the same group were in Norfolk the previous day. 

Northbound - Pale-bellied Brents

A few Sooty and Manx Shearwaters, five Bonxies and two Arctic Skua, as I was about to head home when I got onto a distant shearwater. On jizz, before side-on views,  I thought 'Balearic' - the flight was too languid for Manx. It was distant and and the already poor light was fading fast (19:20) - it probably was Balearic but I wouldn't want to claim it.


On Sunday morning reports came through of a Balearic Shearwater headed north past Whitburn. I decided, rather than risk not seeing it at Druridge I would go to Snab Point, still inside my 5km Patch. News came from Newbiggin that the bird had gone past Church Point, we waited, and waited. 40 minutes passed, two angling boats that had been offshore motored north, Ashington Gary suggested the shearwater might be behind them, I scanned wit the scope and there it was, some way departing boats. It was distant but gave good views, showing a 'dark' armpit, but not a very dark 'smudgy mark'  - jizz was more Balearic than Manx but it looked different. 

Photos and videos taken at Whitburn show this bird to be atypical for Balearic and it certainly looks like many photos of Yelkouan Shearwater. One for the experts...

An amazing number of Med Gulls, at least 75, were on the beach in Lynemouth Bay. A Greenshank on the beach there was nice. I like Snab Point, it's nice to see some rocky shore species. 

One of the Meds

The wind was still out of the north this morning, it was cold and raining when I arrived on the patch. I headed for the Budge hide rather than the dunes. The Spoonbill was still there but little else so I braved a seawatch. 

The showers kept coming, they were light, but squally, and the visibility was awful. Two Pale-bellied Brent went through, followed by ten more and a single bonxie. Another squally shower, and from inside the bay, through the murk, a shearwater came through, again I thought Balearic, again, because of the poor light, not enough to clinch it. I was more certain of this closer bird than Friday's mega distant bird. A single Manx followed it shortly afterwards and I was more certain the first bird was a Balearic but I'll not be submitting it. Another shower loomed so I gave up and went home.

I was back out at Snab Point later for another north-bound Balearic that didn't make it much beyond Newbiggin, where it stopped for lunch. I did the same.

One of the resident Fulmars at Snab - much closer than the passage birds

Juvenile Arctic Skua

Same bird as above

Sunday, 15 August 2021

Viz Mig - it's just a hobby!

Firstly, apologies for the lack of blog updates. There just aren't enough hours in the day and when it is still light in the evenings I would rather be out birding than sorting photos or writing blog posts, especially as most of my time these days is spent in front of the computer in my office.

Since my last post we had a holiday to Wales - a week in the Llyn AONB with an excursion to Anglesey for the Elegant Tern at Cemlyn Bay and two new damselflies. All in all, a great trip!

Back to Druridge, I've managed a few visits before and after work and the patch year-list is now on 146, a couple of decent seawatches and a few early migrants, like Cuckoo and Green Sandpiper, have pushed it up in July.

Common Tern feeding offshore in 'Golden Hour' light in July

Barn Owl - un-ringed second year female

Back to the here and now, on Friday I took a day off work and spent the morning on the patch. I did a bit of viz-migging from the high dune, it was reasonably quiet but I did scope the Little Owl at the preceptory. I had a wander down to the hides with the macro camera to look for bugs and beasts, where, bizarrely,  I bumped into a chap from Oxford whom I'd met at Icklesham back in 2011, where I'd spent a week ringing with him as a trainee. As we were chatting a small falcon flew fast, over the bund, spooked by seeing us, it banked around over the Budge fields and headed off in the direction from which it had come - Hobby! An adult. My first on the patch since 2015.

I scrambled up the bank to look out over the big pool but I had gone. Shortly after I was sat in the little hide with a chap called Harry and we saw the same bird come back over the Budge fields before again heading our over the big pool. I think it must've been hunting hunting dragonflies. Both views were brief but the grey upperparts, lighter plain tail, paler underparts and heavily streaked under-carriage with reddish buff 'trousers' all visible, but it was it's jizz that made us all call hobby before detail as noted. 

Common Field Grasshopper - pink form

New for the patch - Denticulate Leatherbug (Coriomeris denticulatus)

Comma Butterfly - not common on the patch

Roe Buck headed south across the Budge Fields

Yesterday, on arriving at the patch, just before 8am, I saw a few Swifts overhead, Janet sent me a message to say she had seen Swifts moving over the marina in Amble. Another viz-mig session I thought... The wind was stronger from west, which is good for viz-mig at Druridge as birds are 'pinched-in' to the middle of the bay, but also tough-going so I chose a lower spot, rather than the big dune.

Swift passage continued and by 9am I'd counted 109 going south with strong passage of hirrundines, mostly House Martins. This continued until after 10 am when it seemed to ease, in total I counted 245 Swifts south in two and a half hours.

One of over 245 Swifts that went south

A Hobby, presumably yesterday's bird, soared high on two occasions, between Druridge and East Chev and over towards Low Chibburn before drifting south. Scope-views was I all I had, but they were prolonged as it soared on the thermals. Two Merlins and two Sparrowhawks came through as did a juvenile Marsh Harrier  - it was almost like being in Tarifa (maybe not). Green Sandpiper (with a Snipe), Little Egret, four Black-tailed Godwits and 17 Meadow Pipits went south.

One of two Sparrowhawks

And it was gone... one of two Merlins

I went looking for Harebell Bee in the dunes afterwards with no joy but did see some other interesting critters. 

Dune Robberfly (Philonicus albiceps)

Small Copper Butterfly in the Dunes

Hoverfly Scaeva pyrastri

Sunday, 27 June 2021

Patch Tick

A patch tick today - not a bird but a new dragonfly for the patch. Broad-bodied Chaser. The species had been reported a couple of times earlier in the week so I was pleased to catch up with them today. 

I saw the female first, sat motionless on a dead stick.

Female Broad-bodied Chaser

A few minutes later a male flew in from somewhere, perched briefly and was off.

Male Broad-bodied Chaser

A nice addition to the patch odonata list. 

There were lots of damselflies on the wing today, all Blue-tailed and Common Blue that I could see. 

Two different forms of female Blue-tailed Damselfly

A few hovers were out on the Hemlock Water Dropwort and along the path. 

Helophilus pendulus (m)

Syritta pipiens  - Thick-legged hoverfly

Syritta pipiens  - Thick-legged hoverfly
 - female

Eristalis pertinax (m)

On the Budge fields, a single summer-plumaged Spotted Redshank, Little Ringed Plover and Dunlin were noteworthy. No sign of the two Spoonbill reported earlier. Offshore the scoter flock is starting to build with c120 in the Bay. 

Saturday, 26 June 2021

New Bins

I was on holiday in northern Scotland for the first two weeks of June and it's taken me a while to find the time to write a blog post. The garden was top priority, work has been hectic and on light evenings I'd rather be out than sat in front of the computer.

I missed some good 'County birds' whilst I was away - Red-necked Stint and Pacific Swift. I did catch up with the American Golden Plover at Cresswell on the night we got back, but missed it on the patch on the Tuesday when it was last seen. A new bird for the patch taking the patch list to 271. 

I've not had that much time for birding but I've been down to the patch a few times since we got back. I've added a few new birds to the year list including Cuckoo, Roseate Tern, Manx Shearwater, Bonxie, Little Egret and Wood Sandpiper. The first birds I saw on my return the two Ruddy Shelducks that had been on the patch the whole time I was away. 

Ruddy Shelducks
Common Tern over the Budge Fields
Lapwing on the Budge Fields
Coot with young in tow (it'll have killed the others)
Cool Robberfly - Pamponerus germanicus in the plantation

On Thursday morning I did my territory mapping exercise. harder work at this time of year with warbler silent, feeding young. Some are on second-broods and have started to sing again. It was a lovely calm morning and unlike the previous Tuesday no campers, motorhomes or 'drunk miscreants'! If only every day was like that.

Thursday Morning

I've been pondering buying a new pair of binoculars for some time. My Swarovski 8.5x42 ELs are 21 years old now, whilst optically fine, they are big and have some action. Time for a change.

The new Swarovski NL Pure 10x32s caught my eye, but a discussion with Neil Osborne and others led me to testing out the Zeiss Victory SF 10x32s for a weekend. Zeiss do a brilliant 'try before you buy' deal whereby they send you the bins via courier for a weekend and then collect them again the next week. Brilliant!

I enjoyed using them, much smaller and lighter than my ELs and 10x as opposed to 8.5x that I'm used to made a difference. The field of view was amazing and a huge amount of light came in for 10x bins. I was impressed.

I had to try out the Swaros too. Swarovski don't do a try before you buy deal, but London Camera Exchange in Gosforth got a pair in for me to try, which I did this morning. Luckily they also has a pair of the Zeiss in too so I could try them side-by-side (okay only in Gosforth High Street, but the light was testing). 

Side-by-side - the Zeiss and the Swarovski 10x32s

The result:

Clarity and light: - on par, Swarovski slightly edging it

Field of view:  - on par

Close focusing: - Zeiss were a couple of cm closer but not much in it.

Weight: - Zeiss slightly lighter but not enough to be noticeable in use

Use and feel:  - this is where the big difference was for me - the Swarovski bins felt much more comfortable to use, there were places for both my thumbs whereas the Zeiss felt slightly awkward. When testing the Zeiss at home, I couldn't quite get the eyecup relief right and I found the same today. I found the focusing wheel a bit stiff at first on the Swaros (almost too light on the Zeiss) but it loosened with use, probably just because they were new. Now this is an odd thing to say - the Swarovski's felt 'better quality', the Zeiss feeling a bit 'cheap' (they're not!).

Binoculars are a personal thing, what suits one person doesn't suit another. Janet can't get away with my Els for instance. That's why when people ask for advice about a pair of bins, I always tell them to try some out against each other if possible. 

In the end,  it was the ergonomics of the Swarovski's that won it for me, they just felt 'right'.

The Zeiss are excellent and I would recommend trying them. Since buying the Swarovski's I've heard some negative stories about the armoring deteriorating - which isn't good considering the price of them! Time will tell I guess. 

So, I'm the proud owner of a new pair of bins. The old Swaros resigned to a spare pair/house bins.

Sunday, 23 May 2021

First patch Osprey in 25 years

After heavy rain and cold northeasterly winds on Friday/Saturday morning Janet and I went out to look for migrant passerines at Druridge on Saturday morning. We stopped at the Budge Screen first and finally caught up with some Little Gulls and the thunbergii (grey-headed) Yellow Wagtail. With two Wood Sandpipers, a pair of Garganey, a Knot, two bar-tailed and three Black-tailed Godwits among the supporting cast we would have been happy to leave it at that. 

We wandered north along the bushes and onto the haul road. It was there, where we were alerted to a large bird flying north pursued by five or six Lapwings. The Lapwings wouldn't have bothered going that high for a gull, so bins onto it and it showed it to be an Osprey! It was heading steadily north and soon lost to sight over East Chevington. 

Osprey heading north pursued by Lapwings (heavy crop)

This is my first patch Osprey since at least 1996 - it was so long ago, the record is in a long-gone paper notebook. 

We didn't find any noteworthy migrants passerines, not even a Wheatear. There were hundreds of hirrundines and the Swifts were flying very low.  The sun came out briefly later and brought out some insects.

Common Cardinal Beetle 

Male Andrena sp of bee

Large Red Damselfy (female)

22-Spot Laydybird

Cheilosia sp of Hoverfly  -STOP PRESS - Roger Morris thinks this is C. bergenstammi

Green NettleWeavil

Sphaerophoria sp of hoverfly - the females can't be identified to species by photographs

Red and Black Froghopper

Today was WeBS count day. Highlights were five Little Gulls, one Med Gull and a single Drake Garganey. Wood Sandpiper and Ruff had been reported but we didn't see them. The Grey-headed Wagtail was gone but there were two flavissima.

Drake Tufted Duck - without the orange eye, this could be monochrome photo

 We walked to Chibburn mouth to check on my fence and walked back along the beach seeing very little along the way - only a handful of Sandwich Terns.

One of the Sandwich Terns

Spoonbill looking miserable on the Budge fields earlier in the week