Sunday, 29 November 2020

Dank

Dank - it's a good adjective and is commonly used at this time of year to describe the weather. Today was dank. Janet and I walked around by the farm in hope of seeing Collared Dove, Yellowhammer or even a Merlin but we were without luck, The year-list is still on 176.

Much of the week has been dank. Even with my walks being at lunchtime, there's hardly been enough light to warrant taking the camera out. Yesterday morning started out bright but very cold with a hard frost, but the dank soon set back in and there's been next to no wind for a few days. We tried to catch some finches in the dunes without success, in fact there were hardly any birds at all, the 130-strong flock of birds that I saw on Friday must've been elsewhere. There were at least 30 Twite with Chaffinches, Goldfinch and Linnet.

Twite feeding in the dunes
Same bird
Male Stonechat on the fence by the cyclepath

I was thrown slightly on Friday by a bird on the big pool. It was a duck, bobbing about, fast asleep and I only had my bins. 

Mystery duck

When it woke and lifted its head it was identifiable as a female Common Scoter - it was just a bit out of context on the big pool. 

Female Common Scoter on the big pool

Otherwise it's been relatively quiet. There's been a vocal Chiffchaff by the path to the hides all week, it was still there today and Woodcock have flushed every time I've walked through the bushes. Three Ruff were with over 50 Redshank on the field north of the Coal Road on Monday.

I had a look on the sea on Thursday, a nice Great Northern Loon was close in, close enough to see some 'checker-boarding' on its back. A Med Gull went south and about 21 Red-throated Loons were also on the sea. This was the view from the dunes.

Sunshine on The Cheviot from Druridge through a 400mm lens. Hedgehope is the domed hill to the right of the photo and that's Swarland in the middle-distance. 

Sunday, 22 November 2020

Winter birding

The last of the Blackbirds from the huge invasion earlier in the month are hanging on, making their way through the remaining Hawthorn berries are the last remnant of Autumn. Otherwise it feels like winter. 

Wintering duck numbers have started to build up on the Budge fields, with Wigeon numbering about 160 but there's fewer Teal. The big pools is virtually bereft of life, I've not seen one, but I fancy there's an Otter about which will deter wildfowl from settling.

Elsewhere on the patch the 'front field' at Druridge Farm is attracting big flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover with a maximum of 560 and 320 respectively this week. Scanning through plover flocks - proper winter birding. 

Some of the Golden Plover flock this morning

I took Thursday off work on the strength of a strengthening northerly wind which ended up as a bit of a damp squib - it came from the right place, just not for long enough. Me decision paid-off though as my flexi-day-off meant I could go to Amble to see the (American) Buff-bellied Pipit that was found the previous day. Janet and I joined a few hardy-souls at first light and after an hour or so of searching, the bird was re-found on the beach giving the assembled (socially-distant) twitchers good views. A new bird for Northumberland and the Western Palearctic for me.

Heavily-cropped shot of the Buff-bellied Pipit
Female-type Stonechat at Amble
Rock Pipit

I did go seawatching in the afternoon from 1pm to dusk. A Black-throated Diver headed north was new for the year (176), other highlights were two Velvet Scoter north and a lovely Sooty Shearwater, really close in nice light, through the breakers, before heading off north. There was decent auk passage, a few Gannets and Kittiwakes including a single flock of 37 of the latter. Full list here.

Seawatching was quiet so I was distracted by these horses

Janet and I walked the length of the patch and back on both Saturday and Sunday morning. Highlights include a Snow Bunting over, 110 Twite in the dunes (they were on the beach on Friday when it was quieter), Great-spotted Woodpecker and a late Chiffchaff which was calling like mad in the bushes - a nice reminder of Autumn.

Black-headed Gull on the sea today
Guillemot on the sea
Red-throated Loon on the sea

I'm changing my work regime from tomorrow to make better us of the daylight hours so my weekday patch visits will be at lunchtime until February. 

Some more winter birds from this week...

male Stonechat

Wren

Sunday, 15 November 2020

A record-breaking year

Five Scaup flew south during my afternoon seawatch today - nothing unusual there, but these Scaup were a year-tick, 175 for the year and a new patch record!

The previous record of 174 was first set in 2016 and matched again in 2017 and I've been stuck on 174 since 28th October this year. This year has been a record-breaker for a lot of patch-workers and year-listers, it has been a good autumn which will have helped but for me, it's been the COVID restrictions and working from home that have made the difference, despite missing two months on the patch between March and May (and a Hoopoe)

Since lockdown was eased and I could get back to the patch, I've hardly missed a day. Working from home means I can get out for a walk on the patch before work. If I was going into the office, I'd have to have a shower, iron a shirt, have breakfast and commute to the office. Nowadays, I finish birding, grab a slice of toast and switch my computer on. Taking a walk before work also makes me ready for work more than crawling out of bed and straight to work would. I'm not looking forward to next week (or maybe the week after) when it's too dark before work and I switch to lunchtime walks but at least I'll still be on the patch. 

There's still a few possible species and 180 could be achievable?

Black-throated Diver, Little Auk, Water Pipit, Yellowhammer, Collared Dove, Spotted Redshank as well as outsiders like a white-winged gull, Bean goose, Green-winged Teal, Great Egret or even a Waxwing are possible.

Also on my seawatch today I had a dark juvenile Pomarine Skua headed south, A November Pom! It was beautifully-lit in nice light about half way out, the low sun making it look a bit gingery, more like an Arctic but the deep wingbeats, powerful flight and pot-bellied all pointed to Pom. Med Gull, a few Gannets and good count of 26 Red-throated Loons was also notable. 

There has been a good high-tide gathering of Ringed Plovers on the beach opposite the plantation lately, Janet and I counted 41 yesterday and there were about 30 today. The beach was so busy with people and dogs, they could hardly land before being pushed back out, but they always returned to the same place. Seawatch list

Some of the ringed plover on the beach on Saturday

It was also WeBS today, it was quiet though with very few waders or ducks - 163 Wigeon was a canny count   - full list here. 

Birding has moved into winter mode - other than a few Blackbirds and Redwing hanging on, the last-gasps of autumn, it feels like winter now. 

It's been good for Bullfinch this week and this year in general. Three females fed by the road earlier in the week and we had three males beyond the hides today - so that's six different bullies.

Sorry for the lack of photos, it's been so dark in the mornings I've not taken any, other than this dead eel on the beach. 

Dead Eel

The forecast for the tail-end of the week looks like strong northerly winds coming right out of the Barents Sea. I feel a seawatch coming on. 

Sunday, 8 November 2020

Twite and Blackbirds

Saturday on the patch was dominated by Twite and today by Blackbirds.

On Saturday Janet and I had another go at ringing in the dunes north of the turning circle, our first attempt last month was reasonably successful and since then the Twite have arrived back.

Some of the Twite flock

At first we caught Reed Buntings with Tree Sparrows and a Chaffinch. The Twite flock was very mobile, feeding for a while, then moving on, we estimated that about 180 of them in two flocks with Goldfinch and Linnets.

Patience paid-off and we eventually caught four Twite -the first we've ever caught at Druridge despite being part of a colour-ringing scheme a few years ago. 

Twite

Tree Sparrow

The flock came down to a small pool beside the coal haul-road which enabled me to get some photos as they assembled on the barbed-wire fence.

Twite after bathing
The male on the right is showing off the nice pink rump


Twite

Also notable yesterday were three Mistle Thrushes - My first on the patch since the 1st of January!

Today, we had planned to ring in the bushes, probably our last chance of the year but we awoke to heavy fog/fine mizzle, it was too wet to ring. So we went for a wander instead. 

Our walk was dominated by Blackbirds. There had obviously been a big arrival of them overnight. There were a few Redwings too and a handful of Song Thrush and Fieldfare but it was Blackbirds that dominated - we estimated well over 140 in the bushes.

A typical scene this morning - Blackbirds everywhere

Other than thrushes, it was quiet. The Siberian Chiffchaff from Thursday was still in the same spot, we flushed a Woodcock and a few Redpoll flew south and over 40 Goldfinch were by the turning circle. We walked back by the beach to look for Snow Buntings or Shorelarks without any luck - then the drizzle set in so we headed home.

There aren't many leaves left on the bushes now so I think another autumnal ringing session is unlikely. 

Friday, 6 November 2020

Sibe Chiff

I found my second patch Siberian Chiffchaff of the year this morning, this one was quite showy, flitting around the brambles and roses by the new timber screen. When I first saw it, it wasn't calling at all but looked liked a classic tristis, the sun had just come out after the thick fog of early morning and the light was nice but I had no camera so I dashed back to the car for it, hoping it wouldn't fly off with the tits and the Goldcrest they were with. Thankfully, it was still there when I got back and I rattled off a couple of shots.

From the east - Sibe Chiff

A different light, but spoiled by a twig

It called, but not often and I managed to record a single call before my phone died. I use Voice Record Pro for iPhone and if the battery is low, it stops recording which is a bit of a bugger. 

This is my second Siberian Chiffchaff of the year after the one I found on 25th October. Sibe Chiffs aren't common on the patch, certainly not annual. They're a description species for the local records committee (rightly so) and I think most people need to have photos and a sound recording to get a record accepted so hopefully these two will pass muster (I didn't manage to record the bird last month so that may well get canned).

Other than the Sibe, it was pretty quiet on the patch, I had a look on the beach for Snow Buntings or even a Shorelark but all I found was the remains of an expensive firework party. 

The Lesser Whitethroat that was around at the weekend stayed faithful to the same place until Wednesday at least, I couldn't see it today. I never managed a photo of it, such a skulker, but I don't think it was an 'eastern' type. 

There's been a bit of VizMig this week with a few Crossbills and other finches over, some Tree Sparrow and Skylark passage and a few groups of Whooper Swans. 

Sunday, 1 November 2020

October slips into November

 As October slips into November, Autumn slips into winter and we all slip back into Coronavirus lockdown the chance of finding an autumnal patch mega slip away too.

With a strong s'westerly wind today we had a taste of what's to come, winter birding at Druridge feels like a slog sometimes. Once the leaves and berries have gone from the trees there's nothing to hold passerines and it often takes a long, cold snap to bring much change. 

Making the most of the clocks going back and an extra hour of daylight before work, I've been out on the patch every morning before work this week. Mostly just checking the bushes with the occasional wander through the dunes north of the turning circle. It's been windy from the west or south-west since last weekend and gloomy so little to report and even fewer photos!

Monday

Still a lot of pink-foots with 1900 in the front field. A small influx of thrushes with Blackbird being notable in number (13) and a Great-spotted Woodpecker. Some finch movement with eight Crossbill going south, 12 Lesser Redpolls could've been local birds. Full list 

Tuesday

Two Ruff were on the 'Front Field' with 330 Golden Plovers and 180 Lapwing. 18 Whooper Swans flew south in two groups. These were the start of an obvious influx - I counted 67 over Warkworth Links later in the morning. 

Whoopers, south bound in a row

In the bushes near the turning circle I saw two Brambling, both males, my first of the year.  Full list

Wednesday

About 1450 Pink-foots flew south and five Whooper Swans. My first Fieldfares of the year in came in over the dunes, calling as they headed straight inland, they are such powerful thrushes, if these had been redwings they would've made immediate landfall after crossing the North Sea. As winter visitors arrived, summer stragglers headed south - two late Swallows and a Lesser Whitethroat flitted through the bushes with Long-tailed-Tits. Full list

Thursday

Finches were quite obvious this morning with at least 45 Siskin, 12 Lesser Redpolls, 90 Goldfinch and 11 Chaffinch in the bushes. 15 Whooper Swans landed on the big pool, the resident Mute Swan cob took immediate offence and spent 15 minutes chasing them around the pool, as soon as they settled somewhere he would fly at them, wings held out to make him look bigger, in the end the Whoopers had had enough and flew off south. Some Northumbrian welcome to our winter visitors that! Full List 

Friday

There were about 1300 Pink-foots in the Front field this morning. Three Fieldfare came over as I walked through the dunes north of the turning circle. There is still a big finch flock in the dunes with Reed Bunting and Tree Sparrows but I've not seen (or heard) the Twite with them yet that others have. They are mobile mind and the Goldfinches have moved more into the bushes, feeding on Alder cones. It was nice to bump into ADMc for a catch-up. Full list

Saturday

Janet and I had a good walk around the patch. 27 Fieldfares came 'in-off' including a single group of birds. It was very windy and we didn't see much more of note. Full list

Spindrift
It was so windy, it blew these people's feet off!

With reports of more Fieldfares and some seawatching, I went back in the afternoon for a look on the sea at high-tide. I started going through the Scoter flock and soon had my first Fieldfares - it was amazing to see them flying over the Scoters and following them until they made landfall. They were the first of 138 that I counted, they were still coming in when I left as darkness fell - Amazing! That was just what I saw, in two hours, looking in one direction in an eight-mile bay. How many must've come in?

There were smaller thrushes too, Blackbird and Redwing being identifiable until the decreasing light made them just shapes. A group of 14 Starling came in too, lower than the thrushes, flying just over the water. 

There were two Velvet Scoter with about 600 Commons and strangely 10 Shoveler on the sea, one drake, the rest of them looked like ducks and they had two Teal in tow. Otherwise 15 Red-throated Loons, two Kittiwake and handful of Auks were noteworthy. Full List

My best attempt at photographing in-bound Fieldfares.

Sunday

Janet and I braved the wind once more, between the bands of rain. The highlight was a Lesser Whitethroat. A November Lesser Whitethroat - you don't get many of them! This year has been far and away my best year for Lesser Whitethroats at Druridge, they bred, which is rare and autumn passage has been the best ever. Full list

Roe Doe. There are so many Roe Deer at Druridge now.

Pink-footed Goose on it's own. A rare sight!

Sunday, 25 October 2020

Gone West

The wind had gone back into the west and with it some of the excitement of birding the patch, when there's a hint of an easterly at this time you just never know what will turn up, but after a couple of days of westerlies anticipation levels wain a bit.

My morning walks this week have been dominated by the Pink-footed Geese that have been roosting on the Budge fields - about 3000 of them are on the water at first light but they soon lift and head off south to feed. A single Yellow-browed Warbler hung on until Tuesday, it was ringed so presumably the bird we ringed on 16th it was very vocal and made a couple of sound recording of it. 



Goldfinch feeding on Alder cones

Reed Bunting - at least the twig is sharp

After work on Friday evening I checked the bushes to the north. I had the briefest views of Sylvia warbler, as soon as I had my bins on it, it flew and I couldn't relocate it. The upperparts had too much rufous-brown in them for the lesser whitethroats I've been watching, my guess would be Whitethroat but it is very late for them 

Further north, I got onto a Phylloscopus warbler, initial views showed a very broad supercillium and then I lost it, I phoned Janet as it was an interesting bird. I got back onto it with limited views but it showed a peachyness to the under-parts but olive-green above and then it called - Tristis Chiffchaff!

It wasn't very vocal, only calling a few times and I never managed to record it, despite that it was nearly dark, I did get some record shots.

Siberian Chiff
You can make out the light peachy-wash under the tail in this shot

The sky was a fiery orange away to the west at sunset. 

Sunset over the big pool
Sunset over the big pool
And fire in the sky

Lapwings flying south at dusk

Yesterday I had another evening walk and the highlights were another Treecreeper - that's three for the year now, I'd previously only seen six since 1994, Water Rail and Great-spotted Woodpecker.


Today, Janet and I had walk along the Coal Road, inland to the Preceptory and back by High Chibburn and Druridge Farm. It was very windy and we didn't see much of note (list here) but here are some photos.

A small group of Redshank on the fields

Coming in to land

Rook

It looks like south-westerly winds are going to dominate until at least next weekend.