Sunday, 10 February 2019

Signs of spring

In stark contrast to the cold and snow of last weekend it was quite pleasant out and about this morning, mind it was a bit blowy yesterday.

Yesterday we braved the winds later in the afternoon and walked up through the dunes and back along the beach. In the dunes we flushed up a covey of 12 grey partridges, my first of the year here and since the cattle returned. There were up to 2000 pink-footed geese on the fields beyond the haul road - some of them got up and flew over the dunes.

Pink-footed geese over the dunes
Despite being sandblasted, we had fun watching the sanderling being blown sideways along the beach, they were feeding in the sunshine were it came through a gap in the dunes - the same gap the wind came through. A small flock of eight curlew flew over from the sea.



Sanderlings


Two of the Curlew flock
Today we headed inland, first to the Oddie hide were there was little to be seen other than a huge flock of noisy Canada geese.
Canada geese
We continued towards the preceptory where we saw a single yellowhammer on the hedge (there are over 50 in a cover crop only two-fields away). Yellowhammers are hard to come-by these days and are a species that i didn't see last year on the patch. On towards the haul road our souls were lifted by the first singing skylarks of the spring, obviously enjoying the sunshine. There were at least six in the fields either side of the road.  Beyond these fields at least 30 whooper swan and handful of mute swans were grazing, it was impossible to get an accurate count though as some were in a hollow.

I ventured off the patch (I know, it's not like me and I thought I was going to have a nosebleed) for a wander to Chibburn mouth to check the beach levels where we put the fence up for shorebirds in the summer. I didn't hang about though and headed back down the beach and back onto the patch.

Passing Herring Gull

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Snow days

It's been a bit wintery this week.

I managed a midweek excursion to the patch on Wednesday (one benefit of working at home), frosty ground made it an ideal day to walk through the fields towards the Preceptory and back via High Chibburn and Druridge Farm.

A song thrush was on the path towards the hides and the usual selection of duck were on the big pool which remained unfrozen. Towards the Preceptory a handful of lapwing and golden plover were feeding in the pasture field - they sat tight as a peregrine passed over heading north, it was high so they probably did the right thing.

Down to the farm and a large flock of about 25 chaffinches where in the small copse with three coal tits - it's so unusual to see coal tits at this time of year at Druridge, they are normally just an autumn bird.
One of the coal tits at the farm
House sparrows and skemmie pigeons were numerous around the farm buildings but I was hoping for yellowhammers - I was out of luck there. Stock doves were notable in the fields as I returned along the road to Druridge and a large female sparrowhawk flew past me and landed on the fence.

In the hawthorns a robin sat out - my first of the year.

Robin in the hawthorns
On Saturday Janet joined me and we walked the same route - only this time there was snow underfoot and all around us - the song thrushes on the track had multiplied to four.

Snowy track to the hides where song thrushes flew
The field that held the goldies now had over 70 curlew feeding with a few lapwing, goldies and black-headed gulls for company, with a couple of hundred starling.

As we walked to the farm, two skylark flew up calling, 'the cold weather has brought them in' I said to Janet.

snowy track

frozen fields with a flock of pink-feet flying over
Ten tree sparrows were flitting about the farm with the chaffinches and house sparrows and as we approached the cottages two fieldfare flew over the fields - another bird of hard weather.

In front of Druridge Farm at least 800 pink-footed geese grazed, a single greylag was the only exception. We cut through to the beach hoping for snow buntings which we didn't see but we did see five meadow pipits in the dunes - another species brought in by the cold.

With no home-working this week, it will be the weekend before I am back.. but the evenings are getting lighter now and some post-work birding isn't far off.


Sunday, 27 January 2019

Grim day

It's Sunday, it's wet, windy and cold.

I'll not be heading to the patch today. A great day to catch up with things though, I've written my article for next weeks Northumberland Gazette, which is about Starlings and I've finally finished my trip report for our Georgia trip last April.



It was a great trip and I know some Northumberland birders are heading out there this spring so hopefully it will be useful. You can read it here 

Janet and I had walk around the patch yesterday but it was quiet.

There were up to a thousand pink-footed geese in the fields south of Druridge farm with a handful of curlew and starlings.

In the dunes north of the bushes there was mixed flock of goldfinches and linnets numbering 25 of each.

One budge fields a drake pintail had joined the teal and wigeon but there were no waders.

Pied Wagtail on the beach

Friday, 18 January 2019

Back on the patch

Back on the patch today for my first visit of the year after a two-week birding trip to Taiwan.

Taiwan was interesting and it's not a place many birders get to so we were working somewhat blind but managed to see all but two of the expected endemic species.

It was good to be back on the patch on a cold and crisp sunny morning. I only had time for a quick wander around but added 31 species to the year list. The bushes were quiet as expected, a couple of coal tits were interesting as they are usually an autumn species.

Coal tit
All of the ducks were on the big pool as the Budge fields were frozen solid and there were plenty of them - I'll have a better idea of numbers on Sunday when I do the WeBS count but there were plenty of wigeon and teal.

Drake tufted duck
Pair of Mallards
I wandered up to the north end of the patch and onto the beach along the Dunbar Burn channel where I flushed a jack snipe - it shot out as I approached the end of the channel where there is some wrack accumulated which I presume it was feeding on. 

I didn't see jack snipe last year on the patch. This has happened to me so often, I go a whole year without seeing a species and then see it on my first visit of the next year... Bullfinch, greenfinch. yellowhammer and peregrine are all on that list.

This teal was feeding just beyond where the jack snipe came up from, it stayed put as I walked by, must be plenty of feeding among the rotting weed.

Teal feeding amongst wrack in the Dunbar Burn channel
In the dunes to the north, there was a flock of least 80 twite with a handful of chaffinches, goldfinches and reed buntings.

Reed bunting

Sunday, 30 December 2018

End of another year

Well, I'll not make it back to the patch again this year, so it's time to reflect on a very average 2018 at Druridge.

On the birding front it's been relatively quiet year after an amazing 2017 which saw no fewer than eight new species added to the patch list, no new species were added in 2018 - the first year that's ever happened.

A half decent seawatch which added red-necked grebe, little auk and grey plover to the list made up for an otherwise uneventful autumn. With no easterlies until late November, there were no falls of migrants to speak of and very little passage which meant more common passage migrants like redstart, pied and spotted flycatcher and whinchat weren't recorded.

Other passerine species missing from the 2018 list include yellowhammer, bullfinch, greenfinch, snow bunting, and tree pipit (usually seen on viz mig). It was quite a good year for waders with only temminck's stint and jack snipe missing from the likely candidate list.

We've ringed less birds than any previous year this year as well. The 'beast from the east' storm in April did for many of the resident passerines, completely wiping out wrens with no pairs recorded this year. We had very few chances to ring in the autumn because of the weather. We did manage to ring some storm petrels on the beach and had the nice surprise of a Leach's petrel too.

The winter has been unseasonably mild again, with temperatures in the mid-teens on some days. This has meant species usually associated with cold weather haven't been recorded, like yellowhammer and red-legged partridge.

The patch bird list for 2018 was 167, which is an average total based on the last few years but well behind the 174 totals from 2107 and 2016.

It'll be late January before I'm back on the patch so Happy New Year to you all and thanks for reading.

Here's some photos from the last few days of the year.

Cormorant in flight

A group of whooper swans in flight over the patch

Carrion crow

Mute swan taking off from the big pool

Wednesday, 12 December 2018

Absentee

I've bit a bit of an absentee from the patch recently. With birding limited to weekends and weekends taken up with football and chores it doesn't leave any time for birding. That alongside a knackered computer has meant little activitiy on the blog I'm afraid.

In late November I spent a bit of time in the dunes north of the 'Druridge bushes' which themselves are looking more like twigs after the cattle destroyed them last March. These dunes are part of the farm and are used for over-wintering cattle and as such, are full of all sorts of seed-baring plants which I must try to identify when they are in flower next year ( I recognise mugwort and burdock). The patch boundary is the northern end of the first fenced and farmed dune. Technically these are 'Chibburn Links' rather than 'Druridge Links'.

One of these plants has a small, hard, round seed and the finches, reed buntings and tree sparrows love them - I had flocks of 50+ twite, 100 goldfinch, 40+ reed bunting, 50+ chaffinch and 50+ tree sparrows and a handful of linnet.

Twite

Some of the reed buntings with the small round seeds
Tree Sparrows and chaffinch
As well as the finches, buntings and tree sparrows, these dunes have attracted a lot of grey partridges - My top count was 54 in three coveys with a single covey numbering 28! There is something like in there. I still haven't seen a red-leg this year though...
Grey partridges


The only time I've been back on the patch since was last weekend when a White-billed Diver had been reported just off from the Dunbar Burn - being a full patch tick for me, I was there as soon as it was reported but had no luck. It was reproted again after we left but not by anyone that I know.

We did see a single drake velvet scoter, a dozen red-throated divers and a fly-by adult med gull.

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Stormies to Ireland and the Faroes

We only caught two storm petrels in 2017, both on the same night  - 12th/13th August.

We've heard from the BTO that both of them been cauught again this summer - 100% return!

The first one we heard about was caught 328 days later at Copeland Bird Observatory, off the coast of Northern Ireland on 7th July - a direct distance of 260km.

The second control was a bit more exciting, our first from outside the UK. The first bird we caught last August was ringed by Sasha, a trainee ringer and it was caught again 363 days later on 10th August at Fleygarheyggjarnir, Dalur, on the island of Sandoy, one of the Faroe Island - 780km away


You can read about the night we ringed them here 

Much of the science behind bird ringing lies in the ring being found again, whether read by another ringer who has caught the bird, read in the field (for bigger birds) or found on a dead bird. Only a small percentage of the birds we ring are cuaght or found again, most of them are caught again by us in the same place, some are 'controlled' away from our site.

By precentage (of birds ringed) we've have had more revoveries of storm petrel than any other species we catch. This means they are good species to target for study as they generate valuable data.