Sunday 31 January 2016

Close...but no cigar

I'd been down to the patch for a couple of hours this morning before heading home via the Country Barn at Widdrington for a pasty. As I was leaving the farm shop, my phone pinged - a message to say that there were two waxwings on the road north of Druridge - Did this mean the haul road? Not much like waxwing habitat that. I panicked a bit - waxwing would be a new bird for the patch.

I phoned the chap who had put out the message and he explained that the birds were just off Druridge Lane. I was there in seconds, leapt out of the car and was put onto the birds, on a wire over the fields, with a lot of starling and fieldfare - great birds but they nor me were on my patch.

I jumped back into the car and headed for the nearest patch boundary, which is just before High Chibburn Farm. But it was no use, I could hardly see the wires for the high hedge, I took my wellies off and climbed onto the car, extending my tripod as far as it could go, but I couldn't pick out the birds. Frustrated I headed back the original spot, but there was no sign of the birds. I ate my pasty and headed home.

Before all of this kerfuffle, I had spent a pleasant couple of hours on the patch. When I arrived there was a short-eared owl hunting along the grass by the road - nice.

I had a walk south through the bushes. I disturbed a small male sparrowhawk from a  fencepost, it flew off causing alarm amongst the long-tailed tits. When I reached the path to the Budge screen, I disturbed the same bird again, this time off the ground, I went to have a look for a kill and found this...

The kill

Not what I was expecting. A woodcock! The bird was minus its head, but I found both mandibles nearby. The sparrowhawk had already had a decent meal of it, but I do hope it returned to finish its lunch. Woodcock would be no problem for a female sprawk, but quite a big bird to handle for small male like this one.

I still need woodcock for my year list...

As I arrived in the Budge screen, a water pipit took off from the right and flew, calling, a short way before settling down to feed.

There is plenty of wildfowl on the Budge fields, particularly wigeon, teal and mallard. There are also about 350 lapwing and a few curlew. Two drake pintail were still there too.

A quick look offshore produced a year-tick in the form of two razorbills but little else. At the farm, yellowhammer was my second patch year tick of the day.

So at the end of January I am on 88 species netting me 102 points in the Patchwork Challenge - not a bad start, but I think February could be a slow month, although I did see some signs of spring today.

Hawthorn bursting in to leaf

Monday 25 January 2016

A few new January birds

I've been down to the patch a couple of times post. No photos though, it's just been too dull.

I had a nice dusk visit on 20th, it was nearly dark when I left at 16.15. Highlights were two ruff and eight dunlin on the Budge fields and flock of about 15 fieldfare flying over and into the bushes, quite often a species I have to wait until autumn for.

Standing at the Budge screen, I heard a water pipit calling, but I couldn't find it, I think it was overhead. There were also three drake pintail still present.

On Sunday, I took look one look at the number of people at the Budge screen and gave it a dodge. I had a quick look offshore, but it was very quiet other than a flock of about 40 scoters flying south which included five velvet scoters!

This morning was quite warm, but the strong southerly wind and overcast skies made it feel colder. And there very few people about - which is good.

There are still plenty geese about though. The majority, a flock of over 3000 pink-feet, were over by Low Chibburn somewhere - they lifted and settled gain after a light aircraft flew over. A smaller group of about 350 came down into the fields west of the Budge - there were at least five European white-fronts and five barnacles with them.

I saw three species I wouldn't normally expect in January:

Greenfinch - one on the feeders, a species I wouldn't normally expect until the big post-breeding flocks of finches arrive in late summer - the presence of feeders has dramatically increased the number of finches, tree sparrows and reed buntings overwintering at Druridge.

Shelduck - normally a February arrival (there were two on New Years Eve - not a species I would expect in December at all).

Stock Dove - Two on the Budge fields - again a February/March bird

My other year-tick today was little owl - thanks to Dave Elliott for the tip-off

From the Budge screen, I picked up a very large (must have been female) peregrine sat on a fencepost beyond the Haul Road way over towards Low Chibburn Farm. The drake scaup was still on the big pool.

My year list now stands at 86 species and 99 points for the Patchwork Challenge.

Sunday 17 January 2016

And now...the NEWS

Ages ago I volunteered to do NEWS - or the BTO's Non Estuarine Waterbird Survey  and my section is the Hemscotthill Burn to Chibburn Mouth - 90 % inside my patch.

I did my survey on Friday lunchtime (it has to be done three hours either side of low tide), it was bright and clear but cold. The first birds I saw were two mistle thrush, a welcome year tick. whilst I was looking at some twite and surveying the sea for waterbirds, the pink-footed goose flock that had been in the filed in front of the cottages, had been disturbed and flew overhead and out to sea before coming back over to return to the same field. I was a bit slow in getting me phone out to video them going overhead. There was a single barnacle goose amongst them.

Pink- footed geese

Just beyond the big dune, I stopped to count some gulls and check the sea for birds. As I was scanning a diver flew through my scope - I immediately ruled out red-throated diver (it was close in and looked black and white and it's head was fled straight out and wasn't going 'up and down' as it flew) but it wasn't heavy enough for great-northern - it was a black-throated diver. A rare visitor to the patch and my first since 2014.

Two sanderlings were the only waders I recorded. This is telling of the numbers of dogs now using Druridge Bay I reckon - disturbance is one of things BTO ask us to record.

Today I was back on the patch to do my usual WeBS count for BTO. I stopped first at the edge of the patch to have scan through pink-footed geese flock that were still in the field.
Pick a bean goose out of that lot
As I scanned, a big female sparrowhawk came through and perched on the fence. Tin Tin and Sacha joined me for a bit and we picked out barnacle and some white-fronted geese, there were at least six and all were Eurasian white-fronts. We had a water pipit over, calling.

Some visiting birders from Teesside got onto a peregrine and there was at least three buzzards about. ADMc joined me for a bit, just as he was leaving I got onto a goose with thick, stocky, orange legs. It wasn't one of the WFGs and the bill looked for bean - but the flock was disturbed and moved together into a huddle and I lost 'my bird'. I'll go back tomorrow when I have more time.

Onto my WeBS. The Budge fields were completely frozen so only six black-headed gulls to record. A water pipit was showing well in front of the screen.

Robin on the path to the Oddie hide
Onto the Big pool, the canada/greylag flock had moved from the fields onto the pool and the four barnacle geese were still amongst them but no Greenland white-fronts. The drake scaup was still present, but no sign of the hybrid Aythya and ten pochards are still there.

Little Grebe

My year list stands at 76 species and my PWC score is 88 with the addition of a few 'two-pointers' in the last couple of days.

Sunday 10 January 2016

2016 - a week in.

As regular readers of this drivel/quality writing will know, I rarely get out birding on New years Day, in fact I don't normally surface until about 3rd January.

This New Year was different. Nothing to do with resolutions, which I never stick to anyway (like updating this blog more regularly), I was laid-low with manflu on New Years Eve and stayed at home. So, there was me, fresh as a daisy, out on the patch on New Years Day.

It was nice to get some air into the lungs and for once it wasn't raining or windy (it didn't last). Janet and I had a good walk around the patch, through the fields to the preceptory and back by the farm and cottages. I managed to see 63 species in a little over two hours, which ain't bad.

Highlights included water pipit, drake scaup (different bird to the hybrid Aythya I and others have seen), twite, whooper swan, pochard and black-tailed godwit.

I've only been back twice since then. Yesterday I popped down for an hour so, a short-eared owl heading south from Druridge Farm, before dropping into the grass field was rather nice as were the covey of eight grey partridge in the dunes opposite.

A water rail was calling from the small pond behind the feeders, clearly audible from the Budge screen - it was still there when I drove home, mooching around the vegetation. Two whooper swans were on the very wet Budge fields. I am pleased to see the Budge fields so wet, it will suppress grass growth and encourage the ponies to eat things they wouldn't normally, like soft rush.

Offshore yesterday, I picked up a slavonian grebe, not far beyond the breakers. There were also two red-throated divers and  handful of mergs and scoters.

Today, I did a drive-by. Jonathan Farooqi had reported ten dark-bellied brents in the fields off the haul road. So, on our way back from Amble market, we called in to see them.

I am back in the Patchwork Challenge this year. After ten days I am on 68 species for 77 points.

After last years total were added to my spreadsheet, my annual species count, based on  all records since 2008 works out at 160.125 species per year - so last years 161 was bang-on average.