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 Brünnich'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?

Sunday, 17 October 2021

Tystie, tystie, very, very tystie

Twists of fate led to a full-fat patch tick on Friday.

Firstly - I wouldn't have normally been at Druridge on a Friday lunchtime. I'd have been at work. A good friend from Malta, Justin Vassallo, was visiting so I took the day off to take him birding. Justin is a legend - he started the first Maltese Raptor Camps in 1999, when he was only 19. I met him in 2001 when I went to my first of four raptor camps. We've been friends ever since. 

Secondly - We'd spent the first part of the morning seawatching at Snab Point so wouldn't have ordinarily gone back to look at the sea. We were in the little hide at Druridge when a couple of visiting birders told us they had seen two great northern divers with a single red-throated offshore - A chap had put them onto them. We retrieved the scopes from the car and headed up there. The 'finder' wandered off when we arrived. No sign of the GNDs but there was enough to look at so we stayed a while.

And that's how I happened to be in the right place at the right time.

We counted at least 20 red-throats on the sea, 160 common scoters, large auks, red-breasted mergansers, three scaup, great crested grebes. All good stuff for a Maltese birder. After 30 minutes or so of scanning, I picked up an auk headed north, already north of us - big white wing patches stood out immediately on an otherwise black and white 'motley' auk. Justin was looking south when I called it  - Black Guillemot! Despite my best efforts I couldn't get him onto it before it disappeared into a trough and was lost to sight. Given the scaly-dusky-ness of the bird I think it was a first-winter rather than a winter adult. 

I suppose 'tystie' is overdue as a patch bird and I shouldn't have been unexpected but it certainly wasn't on my radar for Friday - given reports from elsewhere, great shearwater or white-billed diver would've been more likely. So,  a pleasant surprise. Tystie takes my patch list to 253 and the patch list to 272.

We retired to the Drift Café for lunch and a celebratory beer.
Justin and me - celebrating a few lifers for him and a patch tick for me with a bottle of Curlew Return each

Elsewhere on the patch, late common darter and migrant hawker dragonflies were on the wing and three mistle thrushes were around the farm. Four barnacle geese were new for the autumn.

One of many common darters

Mistle thrush - not common on the patch

After the excitement of Friday, Saturday was a bit more mundane. 

It was a grey day, no wind, just flat... as was the birding. I decided to have a look on the sea. The sea was flat too. There was steady, northerly, kittiwake passage and three little gulls lingered offshore. A single female scaup came in with a red-breasted merganser and two turnstone flew north. 35 red-throated divers were on the sea, eight flew north and one went south.  

Coal tit in the plantation on Saturday

Today, Janet and I walked north from the plantation and back by the beach. The bushes were VERY quiet. The three mistle thrushes were still about. On the beach, a single rock pipit feeding on the seaweed north of the Dunbar Burn was a year-tick. Rock pipits are tricky at Druridge so it was welcome. 

Rock pipit

Carrion Crow on the beach

Razorbill - still a few auks feeding close inshore

Ringed plovers from last week

A sizeable (250+) flock of finches roamed about the dunes, I think 85-90% of them were linnets. No twite yet. 

Sunday, 10 October 2021

Autumn hasn't really got going

It's been a month since my last blog.

In my defence,  I have been on holiday. We had ten days away in late September to Lincolnshire, Norfolk  and Suffolk. We finally managed to connect with the black-browed albatross at Bempton on our way south and called in for the long-staying White-tailed Lapwing at Blacktoft. 

Black-browed Albatross at Bempton

White-tailed Lapwing at Blacktoft

Norfolk and Suffolk were quiet bird-wise. It's great to see hobby everyday and great egrets are everywhere (both still description species in Northumberland). As the birding was so quiet, we concentrated more on invertebrates. The wonderful Suffolk Wildlife Trust Reserve - Carlton Marshes, didn't disappoint. We saw fen raft spider and three species of Bush Cricket there.

Roesel's Bush-Cricket
Short-winged conehead

We also watched a little egret catching migrant hawker dragonflies on the wing- who'd have thought that 20 years ago.

Little egret hunting dragonflies

At Waxham, we went to successfully twitch vagrant emperor dragonflies and also saw wasp spider - bonus! I like Suffolk. There's lots of interesting things that we don't see up here (yet). 

Wasp spider

Back on the patch it's been quiet though. With the wind mostly from the west, there's been no falls of birds and common passage migrants have been absent. My chances of redstart, pied or spotted flycatchers or garden warbler are now very slim. With the forecast saying westerlies for at least another week, a vagrant American bird could be more likely than a yellow-browed warbler. Speaking of which, yesterday, I went to twitch the red-eyed vireo on Holy Island - a new world-bird for me.

Since coming back from holiday I've added pectoral sandpiper (28th Sept), greenfinch (4th October) and a brambling to my patch list (yesterday - a fly over in-off) which takes me to 160 for the year.