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

Sunday, 4 August 2019

Nocturnal ringing

It's that time of year again. No, not the annual glut of courgettes from the allotment, it's time to head to the beach in the middle of the night to trap storm petrels.

We had our first session on Friday evening/Saturday morning.We were joined by a few local birders keen to see these marvelous birds at-close-hand.

We were all set up by 10.30pm and then just had to wait. The tides weren't ideal, they're spring tides at the moment and big ones, so high tide was very high and low tide, which was at 11.40pm meant the sea was a very long way out, would it be too far for the birds to hear our calls?

After a long wait and much to the delight of those that had joined us we finally caught a storm petrel at 12.45. As usual, those that had never seen storm petrels in the hand were amazed by how small they are.

Storm petrel
We caught another bird at 01:10 and decided to call it a night at 2am.

Two birds is about our average for our visits to Druridge and over the last five years we've caught 27 individuals. We've never failed to catch any...yet - that's jinxed it.

Hopefully we'll get some more sessions this autumn. Ringing storm petrels is good value as we get both recoveries and sometimes catch birds that have been ringed elsewhere all helping to piece together a picture of these strange sea-faring birds. You can read about a couple of recoveries from 2018 here.

Monday, 29 July 2019

An influx of migrants

On the day that our new leader and his Home Secretary announce that they are are going to strengthen our immigration laws a tidal-wave of migrants from Africa arrived, via Europe, onto our shores overnight.

Even Boris can't stop these migrants however - painted lady butterflies - millions of them.

Painted Lady Butterfly
A typical scene this morning
In a short walk at Druridge this morning we counted over 250 of them. Other observers counted similar numbers up and down the coast. This is the third and most impressive arrival of painted lady butterflies this summer. What's also amazing is that we witnessed a mass movement of the same species over Athens in April - thousands passing through the city centre.

Today was a good day for butterflies at Druridge with at least eleven species noted.

small skipper
a beautiful 'blue' female Common Blue
Migrant moths were also noticeable with diamond back moths, silver Y's and a yet-to-be-identified moth all over the dunes and grasslands.

Diamond back moth
There were hundreds of these in the dunes this evening...
Whilst we were photographing some of the hoverflies a couple of visitors showed us a photo of a hummingbird hawkmoth they had just photographed and we soon relocated it - a patch first for me and only my third in Northumberland.

Hummingbird hawkmoth - new for the patch
Some hoverflies from today
Rhingia campestris - sometimes known as the 'Heineken hoverfly'
Pellucid hoverfly - Volucella pellucens
 Female Syrphus sp. possibly ribesii
female Platycheirus sp
male Eristalis sp. possibly E. tenax

Most of this stuff still needs identifying...

One of the 'picture-winged flies'
Wasp Sp. to be identified - not even to family yet...
Could be a Tenthredo sp?
Orthops campestris
Spider - underside
Same spider from above
Grasshopper Sp
Back to Birds...
Wader numbers were much-reduced from what they were on Friday. Today there were two wood sandpipers, one common sand, five black-tailed godwits, two ruff and greenshank of note. On Friday there were 10 common sand, one wood sand, one green sand, one little ringed plover, 27 black-tailed godwit, four knot, ten snipe, two ruff, whimbrel and a the first returning golden plover of the autumn.

We had hoped to try to ring some storm petrels tonight but the sea was still boiling after recent northerlies, loud enough to drown-out or speaker for sure. We did go and check the volume out though and had ten Med gulls in the beach roost including a juvenile.

Sunday, 9 June 2019


I finally got to see the red-backed shrike that has been Druridge at 8.15 tonight after it gave me the run-around this afternoon. It had been reported earlier in the day and been seen moving through the dunes, ranging from the turning circle to the just north of the plantation.

I wandered the dunes and bushes for a couple of hours or so with no joy, then hunger got the better of me and I went home for a very late lunch and to return to my chores. A lot of birders on a trip from RSPB Coventry turned up so it was also time to leave..

Visiting birders - route-marching up the road from their coach
Whilst I wandered I chanced upon a drinker moth caterpillar on a fence post, it was joined by a 7-spot ladybird and this happened (slowed down to 30% - make it full-screen for best effect)

After tea this evening I decided to have a look for either the shrike or listen for a rosefinch that has been heard recently. After a quick chat with Dave Dack I headed for the turning circle where I could see two birders on the cycle path looking intently towards the 'Druridge Bushes'... I headed their way and as I approached one of them ushered me towards them.

As I suspected they were watching the stunning male red-backed shrike - it was perched up in lovely evening light on the bushes nearest to the fence - distant but stunning.

First - distant views

closer but always obscured by twigs
digi-scoped effort
Tonight's red-backed shrike was my first on the patch since 2008 when a juvenile took up residence in the travelers encampment, and only my third ever. But this is my first spring record and it was a stunning male - as far as shrikes go, they don't get much better than that!

A passing barn owl
Some passing honkers