Tuesday 31 December 2019

End of the year, end of the decade

The sun sets on the last day of the decade at Druridge Pools
The end of the year, the end of the decade...

Despite being out of action for pretty-much all of May and June this year and having done no ringing at all, it's been a reasonable year on the patch.

One, hopefully two, new species were added to the patch list. The first was Cattle Egret on 6th May , the second is a bit more dodgy - Baikal Teal.

It first showed up at East Chevington on 3rd June and overnight moved to Druridge Pools where it remained until at least 7th July. Rare wildfowl are always treated with some caution by the rarities panels, given the number that are kept in captivity and that 'jump the fence'.  If it does get accepted, it will be my 250th species for the patch.

I finished the year on 162 species - the worst year since 2015 but very much related the lack of observer effort. Notable missing species include (last seen and number of years in last ten in brackets ):

Garganey (2018 - 9/10)
Pochard (2018 - 9/10)
Long-trailed Duck (2018 - 6/10)
Slavonian Grebe (2018 - 8/10)
Hobby (2015 -6/10)
Little Stint (2018 5/10)
Turnstone (2018 9/10)
Little Gull (2018 6/10)
Little Auk (2018 5/10)
Long-eared Owl (2018 7/10)
Short-eared Owl (2018 8/10)
Spotted Flycatcher (2018 5/10)
Whinchat (2016 7/10)

Other highlights included  - Bewick's Swan (fist since 2002), Long-tailed Skua (first since 2013), Marsh Warbler (first since 2013), Red-backed shrike (male) - first since 2008 and Willow Tit (first since 2000),

If I had time, I could've done some jazzy stats for the last ten years but I haven't.

I've been on the patch every day over day over Christmas but I failed to add anything new to the list. I'm off out now curry but will be back on the patch tomorrow to kick of the 2020's and year list.

Thanks for reading this drivel over the last year and sorry it's been a bit patchy.

All the best for 2020!

Friday 6 December 2019

Days off

I've taken a couple of days off work to coincide with a trip to Sheffield Utd last night to watch the Toon win.

I've also managed a couple of short visits to the patch. Yesterday was a bit gloomy with a strong SW wind. I stopped to look at the geese in the fields to the south of Druridge Farm, there were a good number pink-feet in the second field from the road and after a few scans through them, I finally picked out two Eurasian white-fronted geese.

By the gate opposite, at least 50 twite were feeding and there were 10 grey partridge.

twite in very gloomy light
The little owl was in the 'round window' (and again today) and there were lots of wildfowl on the Budge fields which are still brim-full of water.

Full list here

Today was brighter with some sunny spells and quite mild for the time of year.

I headed north from the turning circle and the first bird I go onto was a juvenile merlin in pursuit of a finch. It was so fast, twisting and turning, the camera just couldn't lock onto it - I did manage a couple of shots though - great bird.

first-winter merlin
Heading north along the haul road, there were ten whooper swans and over 1000 pink-feet just off the patch behind Chibburn Links. There didn't appear to many finches in the dunes compared to recent days.
distant whoopers at Chibburn Links
Coquet Island with a 400mm lens from Druridge
There was very little on the sea, a few sanderlings and couple of pied wagtails on the beach.
Pied wagtail on the beach
 The pheasant shooters were out in force towards the Preceptory which was spooking the wildfowl and waders on the Budge so I gave it a dodge and headed home.

Full list here

Sunday 1 December 2019

First day of winter

Today was the (meteorological) first day of winter and it felt like it. Mind, I think it's felt like winter for weeks.

A cold and frosty start, even when I got down to the patch at 11 o'clock, the grass was white. It was pleasant in the sunshine but a light NW wind gave it an edge. Autumn is over and hopefully we've seen the back of the rain that has dominated things recently.

I had a wander through the dunes to the north of the turning circle. Beyond the haul road in the recently-sown field, a peregrine sat, perched on a divot, probably full up with lapwing or some other unfortunate wader.

The dunes were alive with a feeding flock of mixed finches. They wouldn't settle and swirled back and forth behind the dune ridge, making counting them very tricky. I finally guessed at 250 Goldfinch, 50 linnet, 30 twite and a handful of chaffinch and reed buntings. No tree sparrows though - a much scarcer bird now the feeding has stopped in the bushes. Four grey partridge flushed - I wonder if the nearby release of red-legs will do for them, I hope not.

Some of the twite flock
Reed Bunting in the weeds
On to the Budge fields. From the midget-screen (being vertically challenged myself I can say that) not much could be seen on the fields. In the willows along the path a very late (or wintering maybe) chiffchaff flitted about, calling as it went. A very vocal water rail was in the bushes at the other side of the path but it didn't show itself.

Blue tit feeding on Alder cones
Down to the Budge hide. The fields were mostly frozen with a little bit of open water concentrating the fowl. Waders -  lapwings and curlews stood on the still-white ridges until they were flushed by a huge female sparrowhawk. She put up a snipe and an aerial battle commenced, the snipe was the victor as the large sprawk flew off to the fence without its prey.

Passing Mute Swan
I've been checking the fields for the Cresswell dowitcher. As it hasn't been seen at Cresswell for a couple of days I had high hopes... The last long-staying Long-billed Dowitcher stayed at Cresswell until New Years Eve when it relocated to Druridge so I could get it on two year-lists. Maybe history will repeat itself.

From the dune, the spring tides of the new moon meant that the sea was on the horizon. A flock of 120 wigeon and some scoters all of note.

Female stonechat in the dunes

Full list here

Sunday 24 November 2019

A proper 'back-end day'

Today was a proper 'back-end' day or as the Scots would say 'driech'. Unlike yesterday when it rained non-stop, it didn't really rain today but it wasn't dry if you know what I mean. A day typical of the 'back-end' of the year.

Having been confined to barracks yesterday, by lunchtime today cabin-fever had begun to set in so I headed out for a walk around the patch. It was so grey and with the threat of heavier mizzle, I left the camera at home, so there are no photos on the blog today.

I walked a loop out to the Preceptory, returning by High Chibburn Farm and Druridge. Before I did, I stopped to check the front field at Druridge for geese as a white-fronted geese had been reported earlier. There were no geese but there were two snow buntings in with the beast at the top end of Hemscotthill Links.

Back to my walk - lots of wigeon and teal on the Budge fields with other ducks and a herd of canada geese. The waders were all on the recently resown grass ley beyond, 134 curlew, 149 lapwing and 160 golden plover and three roe deer.

There was little of interest until I go to the farm where five grey partridge flew out. I stopped to chat to Richard the farmer and got on to three yellowhammers in a hawthorn. A scarce bird at Druridge these days and 'new for the year' for me.

Pheasants were everywhere, I estimated 64 on my route but could easily have been double that. Widdrington Farm have been putting them down for the shoot but they seem to favour the coast it seems.

Not much else of note. It's that time of year.

Full list and route here

Sunday 17 November 2019

Winter WeBS

After what seems like weeks of non-stop rain, it finally dried up today... well almost, which was good as it WeBS count day and I was keen to get out on the patch.

The wildfowl numbers have really built up in the last couple of weeks, especially wigeon, which only numbered four on last months count. There were 363 today with 223 teal and 56 mallard. A female pintail was nice to see.

There were also good numbers of waders with 83 curlew and 56 lapwing. Among them were four ruff and two black-tailed godwit and 12 dunlin flew off during the count. I was hoping the Cresswell long-billed dowitcher might put in another appearance but it hasn't yet.

There was a big flock (for Druridge) of 425 black-headed gulls on the Budge fields when we arrived which had two adult Mediterranean gulls amongst them - they all slowly moved off south into the fields by the time we left to go to the 'other side'...

Before we got there a finch flock moved through the alders by the new 'dwarfs screen'  - lesser redpolls, siskins, goldfinch and three bullfinch - a good record for the patch.

On the other side, it was very quiet - brim full and very brown. A sub-adult great-crested was noteworthy.

As we walked up through the dunes to look at the sea, a flock of 90 or so golden plover flew in-off. There wasn't much of note on the sea (which was a long way out) - a great-northern diver headed north was the highlight.

Full bird list here

This spider was on the perspex window in the hide, which I think is Metellina segmentata which has a common name seemingly - Eurasian Armoured Long-jawed Spider. A new one for me.

Metellina segmentata (I think)

Sunday 10 November 2019

Hungary for birds

There's been no updates from the patch lately because I've been to Hungary.

We went for a short winter birding trip and a quick mooch around Budapest where we met up with our friend Gerard Gorman for a beer or two and got some guidance for our days of birding. Rather than target species, which I did have two - red-breasted goose and lesser white-fronted goose, it was the 'birding spectacles we were interested in.

The first of these spectacles was the great bustards in Kiskunsag National Park, where we saw a group of over 60 in one field.

Some of the great bustards in Kiskunsag
Then it was on to geese. Both Kiskunsag and Hortobagy National Parks attract huge numbers of Eurasian white-fronted and Eursian greylag geese as well as a LOT of other wildfowl. We weren't blessed with good weather, most of a whole day in Kiskunsag was written off due to rain and when it was raining it was grey and damp. I took hardly any photos and what I did take are silhouettes against a grey sky.

white-fronted geese at Hortobagy
Greylags and a great egret at Hortobagy
The next great spectacle was watching thousands of common cranes coming in to roost at Hortobagy. great long lines of them flying in at dusk - an amazing sight.

Finally, the surreal experience of an urban long-eared owl roost in trees in a residential cul-de-sac int he middle of a large town. We counted at at least 30 individuals in a handful of trees.

One of at least 30 roosting long-eared owls
I managed to see six red-breasted geese after a long walk in to the main fish ponds at Hortobagy but the lesser white-front was literally liking for a needle in a haystack and with poor light it was even trickier.

Raptors were good with plenty of hen harriers and white-tailed eagle, an adult imperial eagle and a couple of saker falcons were great to see.

Anyhoo - back to the patch.

Yesterday (Saturday) I had a quick wander out before the football. Gary Wren had reported a snow bunting on the haul road so I headed for that and met Gary who was watching the very-confiding bird on the northern boundary of the patch.

Snow bunting on the haul road
It wasn't long however, before it was chased north by a dog (literally) and I headed south through the dunes picking up some twite with a roving flock of goldfinch and linnet. A long-tailed tit flock roamed through the dunes and a second flock was by the path to the hides. Not much else to report. Full list here

When I was nearly in to Newcastle on the bus to the match, a report came through of nine waxwings moving south towards tot he Budge screen. I've still not seen waxwing on the patch so was more than a bit gutted but at least the toon managed a win.

Janet and I went for a walk this morning in the vain hope that the waxers might have hung about but as I suspected they'd just been fly-throughs.

There was a group of barnacle geese, maybe 14, with about 300 pinks on the front field, the bushes were quiet however - a few long-tailed tits. We met up with David Elliott and got on to a finch flock which included a bullfinch and a lesser redpoll.

Some of the pinks in the front field
We walked back by via the beach looking for snow buntings, we didn't see any but the sanderlings kept us entertained.

Full list here

Sunday 20 October 2019

They came from the north

They came from the north... No, not the birds, the birdwatchers.

I gave a talk about my Druridge patch to the north Northumberland Bird Club the other week and they were so impressed (with the patch, not me) that they decided they would make it the next destination for one of their field outings.  When they told me they were coming, I volunteered to show them around.

They arrived yesterday morning - ten of them. Despite the forecast, the morning started off dry and quite calm. I showed them the plantation and the bushes by the entrance where we picked up our first chiffchaffs of the morning with goldcrests and a flock of long-tailed tits. We then headed north along the road. I got quite excited by a fly-over mistle thrush (year tick) and I explained that this one of the great things about patch birding - common species like mistle thrush, collared dove or treecreeper are exciting finds. A great-spotted woodpecker followed the mistler.

A tractor and trailer, full of shooters, passed us, turned around at the turning circle before heading back towards the farm. As we got to the Budge screen and started to admire the large flock (300+) of teal, they arrived in the fields beyond and started shooting pheasants. Up went the teal with most of them heading off to find a quieter pond. I still don't understand how anyone can call pheasant shooting 'sport'..  With nothing much of note on the fields, we continued north towards the path to the Oddie hide. I explained the various habitats on the patch as we went.

Photo: Margaret G
At the start of the path, near the information panel, there were a couple of chiffs associating with a tit flock before they all went mental when a male sparrowhawk shot through.

There was a handful of tufted duck on the big pool and a juvenile great-crested grebe was noteworthy. As we returned back along the path the first raindrops fell. We paused briefly when I thought I heard a yellow-browed warbler but couldn't locate it. By the time we got to the road it was raining heavily and we took the collective decision to call it a day and head back to the cars.

We saw 50 species in just over two hours which isn't bad considering we've had a week of westerly winds. The full list is here.

With strong northerlies overnight and the first little auks being reported from Tyneside, I decided to try a seawatch this morning. It didn't look promising with squally showers making for poor visibility. Thankfully most of the birds were close-in, especially the gannets. I did an hour and failed to find a little auk amongst the passing guillies. Highlights included a drake scaup, seven goosanders, great northern diver, two red-throated divers and four velvet scoters. Full list here


Sunday 13 October 2019

Autumn migration, vizmig and skinny dippers

The pace of migration and birding as tailed-off a little bit since last weekend when easterly winds brought some interesting passerines onto the patch.

The highlight for me was a little influx of lesser whitethroats, which are a really scarce bird at Druridge these days. Janet and I found a couple on the Saturday morning before we went to twitch the hoopoe at Amble links.

Post and pre-work visits on Monday and Tuesday brought the maximum count of lesser-whitethroats to four, including a very pale looking individual which I only saw for seconds before flitted off. On Monday two of the lesser-throats were joined by at least five chiffchaffs one of which one looked and called like a Sibe chiff  tristis.

I added some other Autumn goodies to my list including yellow-browed warbler, bullfinch, greenfinch, siskin, lesser redpoll, brambling, redwing, grey wagtail and fieldfare. A late flurry of swallows and house martins headed south over the same days and there was good passage of skylarks.

The wind turned westerly for the latter part of the week and a work trip meant it was it was Saturday morning before I got back to the patch.

I paused by the 'front field' at Druridge Farm as there were some pink-footed geese, about 300, feeding, but mostly sleeping, there. I scanned them all, but noting unusual stood out, other than couple of neck-collared birds which I couldn't get the full code from. They got up and flew around when a small came over.

Pink-footed geese
In the same field were about 250 golden plover, 280 lapwing and 62 curlew.

Some of the golden plovers
Whilst I was scanning geese, a flock of 31 whooper swans flew south and along with the two in the adjacent rape field, were my first of the autumn. I managed to get some photos as they flew over.

Three adults and two juveniles


Overhead, a near constant stream of common gulls flew west from the sea to agricultural fields - they return each evening at dusk to either roost on the sea or the beach depending on the state of the tide.

One of the common gulls
 No scarce passerines were found, just a chiffchaff or two travelling with the long-tailed tit flock.
Long-tailed Tit
 On the Budge fields there was another flock of 18 whooper swans - 15 adults and three juveniles.

Whooper Swans
 Today started overcast and grey. Janet and I headed down to the patch for just after first light. It felt quite quiet with few passerines moving other than a roving tit flock.

From the plantation, I spotted a large bird flying strongly south just above the dunes - it was an adult ruddy shelduck. I've seen ruddy shelduck on the patch on the patch before but many years ago. I'm not sure where this species stands on the official British list now, I must check...

There were a few cars parked together near the blockhouse which was unusual, by the time we reached the cars there was a group of a dozen or so folk standing around them. As we approached one of them said;

"You're too late"
me - "For what?"
him- "Skinny Dip"
me - "Thank god for that!"
Another chap (very excitedly)  - " We've been in the sea...naked!"
me - "rather you than me!"

They asked us join them next month or on 21st December - we politely declined and wandered on.

It rained heavily just before 9am which was quite handy as we had an appointment with friends and a large breakfast at the Drift Cafe.

I'd completely forgotten it was WeBS day. The rain had eased a little after 5pm so I went back and did my WeBS count -it was pretty grey and miserable and the rain became heavier. The highlights were a little egret and a kingfisher, my second of the year, over the big pool.

My year-list now stands at 156. A few species are still feasible but it ain't gonna be a record-breaker.

Tuesday 1 October 2019

Seawatching gold

On the back of recentl northerlies I've managed a couple of post-work evening seawatches in the last two days but did I find a crock of gold at the end of the rainbow?

Yesterday evening (17.40 - 18:15) the visibility was better than had been on Sunday evening but the sea was quite quiet. It wasn't a waste of time however, as there was a huge movement of barnacle geese. I counted 307 in different groups - the most impressive was a group of about 85 that I watched coming in-off. Picked up on the horizon, they zig-zagged north and south until they reached land just to the south of me, disappearing behind the dunes. 

The other highlight was a purple sandpiper. Being a bird of the rocky shore they are a very rare bird at Druridge, but conditions were perfect - the top of a high tide when they are pushed off Snab Point or Newbiggin and they head north, probably to the safety of  Coquet Island to sit-out the tide. This was my first patch-record of a 'purp' since 2014.

Tonight (17:20-18.40) was much more productive for seabirds. I thought it was going to be when the first bird I got onto was a bonxie, followed by two groups of manx shearwater with three sooty shears for company.

The kittiwakes, lots of them, were quite far out and the lack of gannets suggested they were even further out again. Other birds were a bit closer, especially some of the arctic skuas and bonxies. Other than the odd manx or two the shearwaters dried-up after the initial flurry. 

A grey plover flew north - another scarce wader for the patch. 

It went a bit quiet after 6pm and a horrible squally shower came through - I hunkered down in the dunes and watched the rainbow until it passed. I had though about heading home, but I'm pleased I didn't. Another heavy shower offshore seemed to push birds in a bit as a couple of bonxies and arctic skuas passed close-by. 

Then, from out of nowhere, two steely-grey juvenile long-tailed skuas appeared above the freshly-arrived raft of gulls on the sea. They swooped and towered above the skyline, quite close in, for a few minutes before heading off south down the bay. My first long-tailed skuas on the patch since 2013. It's often the case that long-tailed skuas will venture much closer to shore than their relatives, I've seen this at Druridge before and at Newbiggin where I've seen them fly behind seawatchers, cutting Church point. 

The light faded quickly soon after and I headed home, cold and wet, but having struck seawatching gold at the end of the rainbow. 

Sunday 29 September 2019

A weekend of two halves

Weather wise, it has definitely been a weekend of two halves. yesterday, if you were in the sun and out of the strong breeze, was very pleasant indeed. Today was cold, wet and windy feeling more like winter than autumn.

Yesterday morning, Janet and I had a nice walk around the patch in the morning sunshine. Butterflies and dragonflies were more prominent than birds however. We started around the plantation where David Elliott put us on to a redstart in the pines, there were a couple of goldcrests and chiffchaffs there too and we also saw the first of many migrant hawkers and speckled wood butterflies.

Migrant Hawker
We headed north along the road as far as the turning circle. Several chiffchaffs were calling and we were being buzzed by more migrant hawkers. I tried to photograph them but failed miserably. On the way back to the car, we called in at the Budge screen. By the path we found this 'white' caterpillar. Neither of us had seen anything like it before so I took some phone-shots. Whilst I was doing so I heard a sharp piercing call overhead and then saw flash of iridescent blue as a kingfisher shot overhead.

white caterpillar
I posted the caterpillar photo on Facebook and it seems to be a parasitic entomogenous or entomopathogenic fungi which thrives in damp conditions and takes over its host. A comma butterfly (rare for Druridge) sat out in the sun as did several red admirals and speckled woods.

Red admiral on brambles 

Full bird list here

Today was a cold and wet. A northerly wind strengthened throughout the day. I had been house-bound until 4pm when I had to decide - birds or football. Would I go to the local and watch leicester vs Newcastle game or would I try a seawatch. I opted for the latter - thank God - the Toon got beat 5-0.

Seawatching wasn't great either mind, very quiet. A long-tailed skua had been reported from Newbiggin but I didn't pick it out if it came past Druridge. A bonxie (north) and a black-throated diver (south) were the highlights. There were still a few terns, I counted 14 common and seven sandwich.

I gave up after just over an hour to check the bushes. My full list is here

At the start of the path to the Oddie hide a tit flock came through. My first long-tailed tits of the autumn, about 22 of them, were with blue, coal and great tits and a single willow tit. Willow tit is a really rare patch bird nowadays, we used to catch them most autumns but not since 2006.

A yellow-browed warbler and several chiffs were associating with the flock.

On the Budge fields 37 curlew and single snipe and redshank were the only waders and about 80 lapwing were on the tilled field to the west and as I left about 45 barnacle geese flew north.

Full list 

Monday 23 September 2019

Autumn is here

Today was officially the first day of autumn and what's the perfect bird to herald it - yellow-browed warbler. 

Despite scouring the bushes this morning I had to twitch one that Mark Whittingham had found by the path to the Oddie Hide (Mark also had willow tit and cetti's warbler - both much more scarce than YBW). It was nice to watch it, flitting around in the alders. The highlight of my morning was a garden warbler in the elderberry bush by the entrance and a few migrant hawkers.

Migrant hawker dragonfly in the plantation
I've been so busy since returning from my near-annual pilgrimage to Tarifa for the raptor migration.

Honey Buzzard

Short-toed Snake Eagle

I've got hundreds of shots to sort out still and I had to prepare a talk, about my obsession with my local patch,  for the North Northumberland Bird Club on Friday evening - had a great turn out of 74 people and the talk went down well. And I did predict that there would be a yellow-browed warbler on the patch this weekend.

I've managed a  coupe of visits to the patch since I got back. A decent evening seawatch on Tuesday evening for an hour produced a couple of adult pomarine skuas (there were probably three - I took my eye off them) and a couple of Arctics.

Pink-footed geese are back with a couple of skeins over last weekend and most evenings from home.

Hopefully things might get a bit quieter so I can get some birding done and keep this blog updated through the autumn.

Sunday 11 August 2019

Wet weather

It's rained, almost constantly, since Friday and I'm bored of being stuck at home.

It's a good excuse to catch up with sorting through some photos though. Here are a few macro shots from last Sunday afternoon when the weather was somewhat nicer.

Eristalis tenax - a male looking a bit tatty. If you zoom in you can see his 'hairy eyes'  - one of the ID clinchers for this species

One of the Sphaerophoria species of hoverfly - can't get the to species level with photos alone.

A male Common Field Grasshopper - Chorthippus brunneus

A female Common Field Grasshopper Chorthippus brunneus

Meadow Brown Maniola jurtina

Speckled Wood butterfly - Pararge aegeria

Common Green Capsid - Lygocoris pabulinus