Saturday 26 October 2013

Swift Exit

After a look around the plantation and bushes by the entrance to Druridge, having seen a chiffchaff, great-spotted woodpecker, goldcrests and Ian Douglas of note, I was chatting to Roger Foster when he said 'I've got a swift'

Any swift in October requires a grilling. Unfortunately this bird was already quite distant and was heading north. It did bank around, three or four times, even looking like it might head south once, but it didn't. I saw it briefly in the scope before we lost it as continued north.

We had nothing better than silhouetted views in very poor light against the sky. At times, when it banked, the wing-tips looked sharp and when it banked again they looked blunter. Pallid swift has to be a possibility at this time of year but we couldn't do anything with it at this distance and in this light. Pallid/common swifts can be tricky in Spain with stunning light against the this one will go int he notebook as 'Swift sp'

I had an hour on the big dune, scanning the skies - nothing.

Seemingly it, or another swift, was seen again mid-afternoon. I don't know who by.

There was a bit of vizmig today, with groups of skylarks going over, a few pied wags and meadow pipits and a flock of redpolls headed south. A steady stream of herring gulls also headed south. A peregrine put up the gulls and lapwings from the fields - my first of the year unbelievably.

I was back on the patch in the afternoon after three snow buntings were reported on the beach by the turning circle. They'd moved south a bit (thanks for the wave Neil) just beyond the blockhouse.

After been absent from Druridge for a few years, I've connected with snow bunting in the last three winters.

Snow Buntings

167 peregrine
168 snow bunting

Sunday 20 October 2013

The weekend

Time on the patch was limited this weekend due the Toon kicking off at 12.45 yesterday. This meant two things;

1) Limited birding time on Saturday morning to catch the 10.30 bus
2) A guaranteed hangover this morning as we were going out for dinner after the match

So I had an hour or so on the patch yesterday morning before heavy rain set in. There were newly-arrived blackcaps and blackbirds in the plantation and willows by the entrance. It was quiet, so I gathered some field mushrooms to go in my pre-match bacon butty and headed home.

field mushrooms
The predicted hangover wasn't as bad as I expected, so I was down on the patch for 11am. The rain hadn't dropped many birds in, the plantation being virtually bird-less other than a fly-in great spotted woodpecker, I saw two more great-spots later too.

12 lesser redpols flew over and kept going. The other bushes were quiet too, with only a few goldcrests of note

Dave Elliot's goosander had gone from the pool, but I picked up three together offshore. There were 6 red-throated divers on the sea.

166 Goosander

Thursday 17 October 2013

Ringing and stuff

I had a quick pre-work visit to Druridge yesterday morning and spent an hour in the plantation. Highlight was a pied flycatcher, quite late I though, so I gave it a good grilling but it was nothing rare than a pied fly.

There were a three or four chiffchaffs, one very grey bird called like a Sibe, the others were bog standard chiffs. Three swallows flew south, a few goldcrests flitted about and handful of redwings were present.

I took this afternoon off. Today looked like the only day of the week that would be suitable for ringing. I had a good session, catching 24 new birds. A chiffchaff was the only warbler in the nets, also caught eight long-tailed tits (another 12 flew south), three goldcrests and assorted tits, fiches and wrens.

A great-spotted woodpecker passed through the bushes.

Once I had packed the ringing site up, I had a look offshore were the highlight was a drake velvet scoter leading the pack north as it was being followed by 21 common scoters.

It as a fab sunset tonight, took this with my knackered old phone on its last day before I join the 'iphone generation'

165 pied flycatcher (first since 2010)

Tuesday 15 October 2013

Ten year ringing report

Bird Ringing as part of the BTO ringing scheme has taken place at Druridge since April 2003. To mark the the tenth season of ringing, we decided to write a 'ten-year ringing report' which we have been slaving over for the last ten months.

Well it is finally here. The report contains species accounts for all of the species 58 ever ringed at Druridge with some interesting graphs and tables as well as maps of recoveries and controls and interesting histories of re-trapped birds.

We hope you find it interesting. You can download a copy here as pdf but be warned it is nearly 10mb.

Sunday 13 October 2013


Looking at the pressure charts last week, this weekend looked very promising. It didn't fail to deliver, with some excellent seawatching on Friday, but a classic fall of migrants didn't happen.

Yesterday (Saturday) morning started damp, with light rain/mizzle ruling out a seawatch, so I concentrated my efforts on the bushes and gave the patch a good trashing.

Other than a few goldcrests, there wasn't much to get excited about until lunchtime, when pursuing a thrush-sized passerine, I flushed a crake from an area of thick, dry, nettle. It was quite large, but smaller than a moorhen, it's legs were dangling as it flew, briefly over the nearest hawthorns. It didn't call. It was silhouetted against the sky, so it looked generally dark (but anything would in that light). The dangling legs reminded me immediately of corncrake.

I headed off in the same direction, holding out little hope of seeing it again as I didn't see it land, as I approached a hawthorn thicket, a bird took off, through the branches, clattering them as it went, making nearly as much racket as a woodpigeon. It emerged out of the top of the bushes, legs crake again. Again it flew north, this time I never saw it again. Probably a cornflake but not clinched. Another one gets away. A 'Country Barn' pasty and mars bar crispie cake was required.

I tried an afternoon seawatch but the light and visibility were awful.

Today was WeBS count day. A dunlin on the big pools was the highlight of the count. There was nothing of note in the bushes and a 40 minute seawatch was unproductive with two manx shearwaters and five red-throated divers (in a group) the only highlights.

Friday 11 October 2013

A much better seawatch.

After this mornings dismal seawatching experience, I took a long lunch to squeeze in a two-hour seawatch this afternoon and I am so glad I made the effort.

Before I had even set up my seat, I had bonxies going north just beyond the breakers - a taste of things to come.

Bonxies certainly dominated the afternoon, they mainly came through in little groups, with an amazing 13 in one group alone. The two main highlights though were two Balearic shearwaters, the first one came through at 15.04, quite close in. I had hardly finished writing in my notebook when a pale pomarine skua came past very close, quite high above the breakers. An hour or so later (16:10), a second Balearic flew north, closer than the first, just over the breakers.

A steady run of sooty shearwaters, mainly singles, but a group of five in a line were amazing. Other highlights were a single slavonian grebe, 3 drake velvet scoters together and a great-northern diver. Compared to this morning there were very few duck, with only wigeon and scoters noted.

Posted totals from elsewhere have included leach's petrel - still very much a bogey bird for of these days

The full tally (1440-1640) (all north unless stated)

bonxie 61
gannet 981*
common scoter 102
kittiwake 416*
sooty shearwater 15
great black-backed gull 47N 1S
common gull 3
slavonian grebe1
guilliemot 3
black-headed gull 8
fulmar 8
balearic sheawater 2
pomarine skua 1
wigeon 32
velvet scoter 3
manx shearwater 3
cormorant 2
eider 3
red-throated diver 2
kestrel 1
razorbill 1
great-northern diver 1
shag 1

* under-count as ignored when something more exciting came through! Gulls under-counted too as many flying under eye-level, close to the dunes.

162 balearic shearwater (first on the patch since 2010)
163 pomarine skua (first since 2011)
164 slavonian grebe

tried a seawatch

I tried a quick pre-work sea-watch this morning.

It was dry when I left home, the sun was just coming up. When I got to Druridge it was lashing it down with rain. The light, looking out to sea, was awful. The rising sun was catching on the rain droplets making visibility poor, anything beyond half way out was little more than a silhouette. Gannets and few duck flocks were close in, but anything exciting was obscured. I gave it half an hour before packing in and heading to work.

This was the view looking back from Cresswell (where it was still dry) to Druridge.

I'll give it another go later.

Totals (for what they are worth) (30 mins)

gannet 57
mallard 37
red-throated diver 3
eider 6
cormorant 1
kittiwake 21
wigeon 24

Sunday 6 October 2013

Ringing Demo

I've said it before and I will no doubt say it again. I've given up with weather forecasts. Look out the window and see what its doing is the best way, especially as we can now see 13 wind turbines from our bedroom window.

The forecast for this morning was 13 mph westerlies, gusting up to 28mph - no good for ringing at Druridge. The reality at 7.30am was virtually flat calm with a light southerly. So we put some nets up.

There was a bio-blitz type event organised by NWT this weekend, so we agreed to do a ringing session as part of it. Quite a few folk turned up to see what we were up to. We caught 23 birds, which wasn't bad considering a lot of the new arrivals had obviously shipped-out in the clear conditions overnight.

Star of the show for the punters was undoubtedly this great spotted woodpecker (not so much fun the poor ringers who had to extract it and hold it for a photo - but to be honest it was quite well-behaved)

Great-spotted woodpecker
Other ringing highlights were whitethroat, blackcap and two chiffchaffs.

It was still good for viz-mig with small groups of goldfinch, tree sparrow, meadow pipit and skylark going through with the occasional pied and grey wags, linnet and lapwing. Pink-footed geese were moving through most of the morning in small groups.

In the bushes one, probably two, yellow-browed warblers were still calling.

What is most worrying is a incident of cattle rustling. The cows, that have been doing such a great job of tackling the rank vegetation on the Budge fields have vanished. As they were doing a grand job, surely NWT wouldn't have taken them off? The only answer is that they have been rustled. The thieves were obviously not being keen on ponies as they left them behind. 

I will report the disappearance to NWT tomorrow and report back.

Saturday 5 October 2013

A tale of 'the one that got away'

There is an interesting pre-amble in the latest issue British Birds to the rare bird report for 2012. The introductory text talks about changes to the way that records are submitted, the decline in note-taking and the increase in digital images as well as 'single observer records'.

It also mentions the line that is drawn between 'the one that got away' and a return from the BBRC of 'not proven'.

We saw a bird today that is well into 'the one that got away' territory. Hopefully it will also be a useful learning experience. Here's the tale...

Ten to eight this morning and I was in the plantation at the entrance to Druridge Links. Janet had just called to say she arrived and asked where I was.

As I was talking a warbler popped out from some low pine and nettle vegetation and I got the briefest of views before it dropped into cover. It was a chunky looking acro, brown above, pale-creamy buff below - but the most striking thing was the way it's tail was 'cocked' pointing up the way like a cetti's warbler or sprosser holds its tail (it did this every time we saw it).

Janet arrived, I explained the situation. We got two more very brief views as it skulked about in the thick, low-lying, pine. I managed to get some detail on the bill, dark above, paler lower mandible and on the legs which looked dark. The second time it flew a little into a higher pine, still obscured, then dropping back into the low stuff it preferred. It never called. I tried a record shot, but just got over-exposed twigs. It skulked away into the vegetation. Nick Adams turned up and joined the search but we never saw it again.

Describing our bird to Dave E, he said 'shaped like a banana'  - and that's exactly what it was. I found the reference to 'shaped like a banana' -

In fact that photo that punkbirder used could have been our bird...

We had ruled out the 'bigger' acros and paddyfield. So, we probably had a Blyth's reed warbler today we didn't clinch it because we couldn't rule out reed warbler as didn't see the upper-parts for long enough to gauge primary projection and we never heard it call. So it will always be a 'one that got away'.

Viz-migging was good again today, especially earlier in the morning with pipits, skylarks and oddly, tree sparrows being really obvious, the latter headed south in small groups. There were also a few swallows and martins, small groups of pied wagtails, siskin and redpoll with a couple of  grey wags over too.

We heard, but didn't see, a yellow-browed warbler and the subalpine warbler was again in the 'Druridge bushes' north of the turning circle. We watched leave those bushes, land briefly in a lone hawthorn, then disapear into a large clump of Rosa rugosa 15 yards south of the turning circle. It may never be seen again - that rose clump is very dense!

161 golden plover

Friday 4 October 2013

PATCH MEGA! that didn't go quite to plan.

Yesterday I decided to take today off work on the strength of the pressure charts and overnight rain. Last night on Twitter I said that I would find something good on the patch, if I had to be out all day.

Well, that kind of went to plan, something very good indeed was found on the patch today - just not by me.

I'd been out from first-light, flogging the patch, Martin Kitching (aka Scotland Gate's second-best wildlife tour guide) saunters up to the Druridge bushes at lunchtime and finds this.....

Subalpine warbler

A stonking male subalpine warbler. PATCH MEGA!

Thankfully he phoned me, I wasn't far away in the bushes by the Budge screen and was soon on the scene enjoying good views of this stunning little bird. I managed this record shot, it looks, from the brown in the wing that it is a first-year male and by the colour and extent of colouration on the breast/flanks that it is the nominate race (or full species, western subalpine warbler, according to some authorities). But I haven't had much time to do any research.

Elsewhere on the patch, massively overshadowed by this bird, was a lesser whitethroat, garden warbler, yellow-browed warbler, a few whitethroats, chiffs, blackcaps and goldcrests. Skylarks and meadow pipits moved through all day and a handful of swallows and sand martins (late!) headed south first-thing.

So, second patch-tick in a week. On a roll (hopefully on a roller - that would be nice). This takes my patch list 231 and today's haul takes the year list to 160.....canny gannin.

158 lesser whitethroat
159 garden warbler

Tuesday 1 October 2013

A trio of waders

A brief visited to the patch tonight after work netted me a trio of waders. A tip-off about two little stints from Scotland Gate's second best wildlife tour leader* had me heading for the Oddie hide. Straight from work in shirt and smart(ish) strides and only carrying my bins was not the best approach, especially as martin was leaving, with his scoped I hoped to borrow, as I walked towards the hide.

I soon picked up four waders on the far bank, two were dunlins, two were smaller, presumably the little stints. I couldn't year-tick them on these views, they could have been anything... Luckily they were spooked and one of them, along with the two dunlins landed on the shore in front of the hide, but not for long, before they all flew back tot he far side. As I was closing the shutters to leave, I spied a wader still on the shore, something new though, a juv curlew sandpiper, which must've just pitched in. It was 2009 the last time I saw either of these species on the patch, 2009 was a golden year for waders at Druridge as the Budge fields had been well grazed and there was mud for much of the year.

The third wader species was added to the year list I walked through the weedy dunes at the north end looking for ground dwelling species. I saw three waders fly onto the fields where the flash pond used to be, further inspection showed them to be grey plovers. They didn't hang around though, flying off north towards East Chev. Not an annual species at Druridge so another nice addition to the year list.

There were no passerines of note tonight, despite me giving the weedy dunes a good thrashing.

155 little stint
156 curlew sandpiper
157 grey plover

157 is the average year-list total for Druridge so, October going to plan, this could be a record-breaking year (that's jinxed it).

* Scotland Gate's best wildlife tour leader is of course Martin's wife, Sarah!