Monday 27 August 2018

Sea-watching and Stormies

With reports of a movement of seabirds from coastal watchpoints, I headed to Druridge for a sea-watch on Saturday afternoon.

I arrived at quarter to five and it was quite quiet a first with a few distant manx shearwaters beyond the pot flags. There were a lot of fulmars and a few roseate terns were flying by and feeding. I had my first of two sooty shearwaters, which was about two-thirds out, at about half five, the second one was later and closer. 

The manx shearwaters kept coming, some very close and a couple of arctic skuas went through together in line with the flags. Just after 6.15 I got onto a pale skua about half-way out - a very pale adult pomarine skua 'with spoons'  - bonus! It was interesting that this bird hadn't been seen at Newbiggin so presumable had been sat on the sea somewhere before flying past Druridge?

Just after the 'Pom' a Fea's petrel was reported past Whitburn. It would take it at least and hour and a half to get to Druridge and the light would be fading but I thought I would hang on. I had lots more manx, another arctic skua but not much else. When the Fea's hadn't been seen at St. Mary's or Newbiggin it was time to head home  - It was a chilly night and I was freezing!

The evening forecast was light winds and no rain so we decided to have a last try for storm petrels. We've never tried to catch any this late in the year before, our previous latest session was 8th August, but worth a try.

When we arrived on the beach and got the nets set up, there was big, bright full moon - it was almost like daylight! Not good for catching birds as they would see the net. The forecast predicted increasing amounts of cloud as the night went on. 

We were joined by Laura Shearer, Paul Stewart, Irene Ajo and the Farooqi's and to our amazement we caught a storm petrel just before half-past ten, the earliest we've caught one by a whole hour - and in what we thought were impossible conditions. We had the nets up until 12.30 and didn't catch anything else so we packed up and went home.

Storm Petrel (Photo: Laura Shearer)
That will be our last session for this year. We've had two sessions this year and caught four storm petrels and one Leach's petrel.

Tuesday 14 August 2018

Midweek ringing and news from the BTO

I had a well-earned day of flexi-leave today and as the weather forecast looked good, I decided to put some nets up at Druridge. Despite conditions being good for ringing, ti was a very slow start and by 8.30am I'd only caught four birds. Things did pick up a bit later and by the time I packed up at 11.30 I'd caught 14 birds -  all this year's youngsters:-

Six willow warblers, four blue tits, two great tits one blackcap and most unusual  - a treecreeper.

Treecreeper (iPhone shot)
This is only the fifth treecreeper we've caught at Druridge. The first was in October 2008, then 2011 and 2012 which were both October birds, we caught one last August and then this one. These August birds are a classic example of post-breeding dispersal. Treecreepers often travel about with roving tit flocks at this time of year so it wasn't a surprise to find this one in the net next to a blue tit.

Also of note today, two female-type goosanders flew south and on the Budge fields there were three greenshank, five ruff, two black-tailed godwit and handful of dunlin. A female sparrowhawk came through the waders and carried what looked like a dunlin off for a spot of lunch.

As I was packing up, I heard a strange noise beyond the path to the hides - so I investigated. I got quite close to where it was coming from when, probably the same female sparrowhawk, flew out past my ear. As I approached where she'd came from, a young magpie, looking a bit shaken, flew up from the ground. I investigated further and found a handful of freshly-plucked feathers. That magpie will never be as lucky again.

We had news back from BTO today of the reed warbler I caught in June which was already ringed (read about it here). It had been ringed as a juvenile almost exactly a year earlier by Ian Fisher at East Chevington which, on the face of it, isn't far, that little bird had been to sub-Saharan Africa and back since then.

Sunday 12 August 2018

Wet WeBS

Today has been mostly wet.

Once the rain eased after lunch, I popped down to the patch to do the monthly WeBS count. Nothing startling on the count, six black-tailed godwits, 20 dunlin dropped in and there were three snipe on the Budge fields.

On the big pool it was nice to see the great-crested grebe with its youngster, still sporting some stripes looking less like a humbug, there were also two pochard. Moorhen seem to have had a good year, there were 26 on the patch today.

I had been talking to a couple of visiting birders up here on holiday from Warwickshire, as I was about to leave the hide, the lady says "Is this a bird in the tree or just a branch sticking out? I got it in the bins, then the scope  - it was a bird. It was stunning juvenile cuckoo sitting out on some branches. I am presuming it was locally reared but could've been a passage bird I suppose.

I managed a quick look on the sea before the fret rolled in - three red-throated divers, about 80 common scoter and four roseate terns were the highlights. An amazing sight though, was flocks of cormorants heading north. I counted 54 in ten minutes or so, with one group numbering 24 birds. Where have they all come from?

There were a few warblers flitting through the bushes, mostly willow warblers with chiffchaffs, blackcaps and sedge.

No photos today because of the poor light and rain so here are some macro shots from last weekend.

seven-spot ladybird Coccinella septempunctata on nettle

22-spot ladybird  Psyllobora vigintiduopunctata

The Heineken hoverfly Rhingia campestris

The most distinguishing feature of the Heineken hoverfly is the long snout.  Heineken used to advertise their beer by saying it could reach the parts other beers couldn't reach.  With it's long snout the Heineken hoverfly can reach the nectar which other hoverflies can't reach - hence the name.

Eupeodes Sp
Turnip Sawfly - Athalia rosae
Not sure what this one is

Eupeodes sp
Tree wasp Dolichovespula sylvestris

Smoky Wainscot Mythimna impura
Scaeva pyrastri
Scaeva pyrastri
 These Scaeva pyrastri hoverflies seem to be quite common at the moment.

Small copper butterfly Lycaena phlaeas on sorrel

Monday 6 August 2018

Ringing at both ends of the day

This blog post could've been called 'Burning the candle at both ends' as that is exactly what I did yesterday.

We've been keen to get the nets up at Druridge to do some ringing since we got back from Galloway, but the actual weather or the forecasted weather, which are rarely the same thing, has prevented us.

The forecast for yesterday morning was for the wind to drop by 7am and to be overcast. So not a really early start, but early enough, to let the wind drop, which it did a bit but the cloud cover was zero. We had the nets up by 7am and there seemed to be a lot of warbler activity, with lots of willow warblers or ciffchaffs feeding in the sunlight on the upper branches of the bushes. They must've stayed there as we didn't catch many. A fly-through collared dove was my first on the patch this year - it's common species like this that excite the patch-worker.

It was warblers that we mostly caught;

Willow Warbler -3
Blackcap - 3
Whitethroat - 1
Sedge Warbler - 1
Reed Warbler - 1
Garden Warbler -1

The garden warbler is indicative of migration as this species doesn't breed at Druridge and is a species that we have rarely caught in recent years.

We only caught 17 birds all morning, so there was some time between checking the nets to have a play with my new macro lens, which is also good a good 'portrait' lens for birds in the hand.

juvenile willow warbler
Juvenile whitethroat
Juvenile sedge warbler
Juvenile garden warbler - a scarce visitor to Druridge
I had a go at some insect photography between net-checking. I'll post some photos later inthe week when I've identified them all, but here is a taster...

Small copper butterfly
So, I mentioned burning the candle at both ends... whizz forward 12 hours and we were back at Druridge, just as it got dark to try to catch storm petrels on the beach. We were joined by Laura Shearer and Jenna Berry.

This is the fifth summer we've tried to ring storm petrels at Druridge. Touch-wood, we've never failed to catch birds and last night was no exception. We've only ever caught one bird before midnight and that was last summer, so it was a surprise when Janet checked the nets at 11.40 and found our first storm petrel of the evening.

We were even more surprised by the next bird, which we caught at 12.20... This one was bigger and it had a wing bar on the upper wing - a Leach's petrel.

We controlled a Leach's petrel in 2016 (read the story here) that had been originally ringed on the Isle of May and been caught again on the Farne Islands before we caught it. Last night's bird was un-ringed. 
Leach's Petrel - They have an incredibly 'steep' forehead.(Photo: L Shearer)
Janet processing the Leach's  - you can see the wing bar in this photo.(Photo: L Shearer)
We went on to catch another two storm petrels at 12.40 and 01.20. As we were about to pack up, just before 2am we heard singing from above our heads - was sleep deprivation kicking in, had we heard too much petrel noise - no, it was a Leach's petrel flying above us singing back to the tape. It didn't go into the net, but it begs the question - was it the same bird we'd caught earlier or a different bird, and if so, how many are out there?

All in all, a long but enjoyable day (and night...)