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

Tuesday, 4 June 2019

250 but for how long?

The drake Baikal Teal that was found at East Chevington yesterday after it's brief trip up to Scotland from Hornsea Mere (where it's been for a while) made a much shorter trip overnight to the Budge fields at Druridge.

That was the news that greeted me when I woke this morning. No breakfast and a creased shirt for work meant I could be there pretty smartly to find the hide already full of birders and the teal swimming about and feeding on the flooded fields.

It spent spent most of its time with it's head in the water, feeding. That and the distance made it tricky to get a decent photo of it, but it showed really well and I was pleased that made it the short hop down to Druridge to be the 250th species on my patch list. 

Heavily cropped drake Baikal Teal on the Budge fields
With rare wildfowl there is always the question - is it a fence-hopper? Will this bird stay on my list for long or will the BOURC consider it a an escapee and boot it off my list?

Well - it's there for now and if it is considered pukka - what a bird to bring up the 250!

It was also nice to see that the shoveler family still have five of their seven ducklings. Druridge Pools is the last reliable breeding site in the county for this species.

Shoveler with five shovelettes
Thanks to Ian fisher for the calls this morning to let me know. 

Monday, 6 May 2019

Tick and run for 249

I hate the tick and run culture of birding, but sometimes, needs must!

News broke this morning of a cattle egret amongst the ponies on the Budge fields at Druridge which had allegedly been found by Dave Elliott. Janet and I were in Alnwick meeting friends over coffee in Barter books when I heard about it but as soon as we could, we headed south. It was mistake to take the A1 as the bank holiday traffic had already slowed to a stop at Felton, frustration grew but we eventually made it to the patch. The egret had moved onto the field north of the pool amongst the cattle (who would've thought?) and was viewed at a distance from the turning circle. The views were satisfactory though and the bird showed well and the sunshine made the orangey colours (of the bird coming into breeding plumage) on the crown and back stand out well. Not prepared for birding, I had no cameras on me so there's no pics...

Family commitments meant I couldn't hang about, but a great bird to catch up with on the patch, if not totally unexpected. Cattle egret takes my patch list to 249 and the overall patch list to 269.

I tried a seawatch yesterday evening from 16:45 for an hour. It was quite with a couple of manx shearwaters going north, eight sandwich terns, a couple of whimbrel and nine common scoter of note.

On (or over) the Budge fields I noted all three common hirrundines and my first swifts of the year, with about half-a-dozen over the pools on the fields. Four species of raptor were also noted - kestrel (remarkably my first on the patch this year), sparrowhawk (big female over the pools), buzzard and marsh harrier - a female hunting on the Budge fields.

This rather fine lapwing caught the light outside the little hide.

Monday, 29 April 2019

The wanderer returns

I was back on the patch yesterday to do a belated WeBS count after returning from a birding trip to the Greek island of Lesvos in the early hours of the morning - how's that for dedication?. A wood sandpiper had been reported which I was keen to see despite this being easily the most common wader on Lesvos with up to 100 in one place.

This is a photo from Lesvos, not Druridge. Lesvos more than lived up to my expectations, it was a great place with excellent birding and I hope to be back there someday.

Wood Sandpiper at Kalloni salt pans on Lesvos
I did see the wood sandpiper on the Budge fields and it was nice to get it on the WeBS count. There wasn't much to count with most of the wintering duck departed and very few waders. Frustratingly five whimbrel flew over, looked like landing but carried on north.

There was a constant background noise of singing warblers - all new in since I left other than chiffchaff. Blackcap, willow, whitethroat, sedge, grasshopper in the dunes by the blockhouse, lesser whitethroat by the Oddie hide and reed warbler in the reedbed.

Also new for the year was this nice fresh speckled wood butterfly

Fresh Speckled Wood - iPhone shot. 
Tonight, prompted by the report of a little tern on the beach, I had a wander up to Chibburn Mouth to check its suitability for fencing to protect shorebirds and it looks good!

On the way there, goldfinches, linnets and skylarks were all in song in the dunes.

Goldfinch (I only spotted the ring when I looked at the photos)
Skylark on the haul road
 A lapwing pair in the fields by the haul road had four tiny furball-like chicks scampering around. I hope they all get to fledge! I walked back by the beach, there was no little terns to be seen but a sandwich tern was feeding offshore and this black-headed gull was nicely lit by the evening sun against the dunes.

Black-headed gull 

Saturday, 30 March 2019

It's all great at Druridge

Rained-off from my gardening duties this afternoon, I was sat at home preparing a pub quiz when a message appeared on the grapevine from Jonathon to say he'd had a great egret fly past him and it was now on the big pool at Druridge.

The rain had stopped and the quiz abandoned. 

Mixed messages on the grapevine had me confused but I headed to the Oddie hide to find a few folk watching great egret on the southern bank of the pool. A nice adult coming into breeding plumage. It was too obscured by a willow bush that has shot up near to the hide for a photo (note to self: ask NWT about dispatching (I mean coppicing) the willow).

A good year-bird that is becoming much more common. Incredibly it has been recorded on the patch in five out of the last six years. Both great egret and spoonbill used to be megas a few years ago, now they're annuals! 

Jonathon was having a good day - whilst I was admiring the egret, he was watching a velvet scoter offshore.  I hung around and counted the gadwall  - 30! that's an impressive count for Druridge. Six red-breasted merganser and a handful of goldeneye were also noteworthy.

I headed for  the dune-ridge.There was no sign of Jonathon or his velvet scoter- in fact there were no scoters or Farooqi's at all. There were 27 red-throated divers which was a good count and my first puffin of the year, just the one, but a good start for March.

The Whoopers, about sixty, and the lone Bewick's swan were scope-able from the dunes.

We've had news of a ringing recovery from BTO, which is always exciting. One of the eleven lesser redpols, which were mostly 'younguns', that we caught on 14th October last year has been caught again by a ringer in Swaffham, Norfolk - 329km from Druridge, 160 days later and now identifiable as a female bird. 

Not the bird caught in Norfolk as this is an adult, caught on the same day -nice though.

Thursday, 28 March 2019

Begad - it's a Bewick's

Without checking my phone for grapevine messages I headed for Druridge for a bit of a walk after work, Janet came with me and we decided that we'd walk through the hides towards the Preceptory and back via the Haul Road.

As we walked along to the hides, we could hear a number of whooper swans on the big pool. At the Little Hide we met a visiting a birder who'd been watching them... then we bumped into Andy Cowell - Andy is a prolific county year-lister so to see him heading towards us, at 6pm, at Druridge, set alarm bells ringing in my head! He must have come specifically to see something I thought - I quizzed him and my suspicions were right, he'd heard about and successfully seen a Bewick's swan with the whooper flock on the pool - but they'd flown off onto the fields beyond the haul road.(I checked my whatsapp to see that the Bewck's had been reported earlier that day...Note to self: check whatsapp before heading out).

Walk abandoned as our proposed route would've flushed the birds from the fields and we couldn't risk that. Instead we headed back to the road and north to the cycle path for a look at the swans, the light was crap but we soon picked up the slightly smaller Bewick's amongst the grazing whoopers.

Really crap record shot - the Bewick's is the smaller bird on the right
According to my database I've not seen a Bewick's on the patch since 23 October 2003 when two were with 28 Whoopers. There are some bits of notebooks missing from my database so there might have been a more recent record, but I can't recall one.

Bewick's swans are a really scarce species in Northumberland nowadays. When I was younger there were regularly several with huge flocks of wintering whoopers behind my house at Warkworth Lane, which was once a nationally important site for whoopers - not any more.

 The Bewick's swan was with a flock of 66 Whoopers and there were 28 mute swans in the next field.

Sunday, 24 March 2019

First migrants - but some good birds missed

This weekend saw my first visits to the patch this month.

It was nice to catch up with ADMc on Friday morning at the Budge screen, it was sunny and quite warm and felt like spring. Seven ruff  at the back of the field were newly arrived and spanking male wheatear was out on the grass in front of us. 15 Black-tailed godwits, 3 dunlin and over 90 curlew were notable.

In the bushes near the big pool, I disturbed a water rail and my first 'patch' chiffchaff was calling.

On Saturday evening, Janet and I had a wander through the dunes to the north of the Dunbar burn. In the bushes before we set off north, six reed buntings were feeding on willow catkins. No sign of the red kite that had been seen earlier on the patch  - a species that still eludes me.

In the dunes there was a mixed flock of finches and buntings which included about 12 twite, six reed buntings, eight chaffinch and 18 linnet with some goldfinches. The grey partridges have split up form their large coveys now and are now paired up. A pair of stonechats were perched up near the Dunbar burn - the male singing sweetly in the afternoon sunshine.

In the fields beyond the haul road there were at least 40 lapwing with many displaying birds. Several juveniles fledged successfully from this field last year so, being site faithful, they've come back. beyond them, in the fields a bit further away, were about 110 swans - there were certainly both mute and whooper in the herds but with only bins, it was impossible to say how many of each. We stopped by the Budge screen on the way home and watched a pair of pintail on the Budge pools.

Today was WeBS count day, I didn't do the count until late afternoon as we were out this morning doing a willow tit survey for RSPB. Our tetrad was west of Ellington, taking in the Linton Burn and Warkworth Lane Ponds and we were amazed to find two pairs of willow tits.

Whilst we were out reports came through of a glaucous gull and great egret on the Budge fields. I've not seen a glaucous gull on the patch for over 10 years so I would have loved to have seen that - it didn't hang around and was tracked up the coast. The pain of a patch birder...

There were no waders on the Budge fields at all. There are still decent counts of wigeon (119) and teal (92). The pintail pair were still present and a count of 47 shoveler was impressive. Two pair of red-breasted merganser looked smart on the big pool and a pair of great crested grebes look settled.

Now migration has kicked-off I'm going to adjust my work-life balance and get down to the patch a bit more often!

Sunday, 17 February 2019

Yankee teal

There's been good numbers of teal at Druridge since I got back from Taiwan and I've been scanning through them for green-winged teal.

I was working at home on Tuesday when a message came through to say that Andy McLevy had found a green-winger on the Budge fields - A lunchtime twitch was in order and I saw the bird.

It was still there today, making it onto my WeBS list - but we only saw it briefly from the south facing hide and too far for photos and then it disappeared into the flock of 406 regular Eurasian teals.

As well as a good teal count there were over 260 wigeon, 130 curlew and 15 grey heron and a single black-tailed godwit. A pair of oystercatchers were new for the year.

Green-winged teal occur, on average evry three years or so at Druridge. Some of them stay for a long time whlist others are day-birds and they're off. At the minute, the American  green-winged teal Anas carolinensis is considered as seperate species to 'our' teal by the IOC but not by eBird who mainly follow Clements taxonomy. So it could easily get 'lumped' again...

In the meantime it's on my list

This will probably be the highest duck count of the year as numbers will start to decrease soon as birds begin to head north.

Sunday, 10 February 2019

Signs of spring

In stark contrast to the cold and snow of last weekend it was quite pleasant out and about this morning, mind it was a bit blowy yesterday.

Yesterday we braved the winds later in the afternoon and walked up through the dunes and back along the beach. In the dunes we flushed up a covey of 12 grey partridges, my first of the year here and since the cattle returned. There were up to 2000 pink-footed geese on the fields beyond the haul road - some of them got up and flew over the dunes.

Pink-footed geese over the dunes
Despite being sandblasted, we had fun watching the sanderling being blown sideways along the beach, they were feeding in the sunshine were it came through a gap in the dunes - the same gap the wind came through. A small flock of eight curlew flew over from the sea.


Two of the Curlew flock
Today we headed inland, first to the Oddie hide were there was little to be seen other than a huge flock of noisy Canada geese.
Canada geese
We continued towards the preceptory where we saw a single yellowhammer on the hedge (there are over 50 in a cover crop only two-fields away). Yellowhammers are hard to come-by these days and are a species that i didn't see last year on the patch. On towards the haul road our souls were lifted by the first singing skylarks of the spring, obviously enjoying the sunshine. There were at least six in the fields either side of the road.  Beyond these fields at least 30 whooper swan and handful of mute swans were grazing, it was impossible to get an accurate count though as some were in a hollow.

I ventured off the patch (I know, it's not like me and I thought I was going to have a nosebleed) for a wander to Chibburn mouth to check the beach levels where we put the fence up for shorebirds in the summer. I didn't hang about though and headed back down the beach and back onto the patch.

Passing Herring Gull

Sunday, 3 February 2019

Snow days

It's been a bit wintery this week.

I managed a midweek excursion to the patch on Wednesday (one benefit of working at home), frosty ground made it an ideal day to walk through the fields towards the Preceptory and back via High Chibburn and Druridge Farm.

A song thrush was on the path towards the hides and the usual selection of duck were on the big pool which remained unfrozen. Towards the Preceptory a handful of lapwing and golden plover were feeding in the pasture field - they sat tight as a peregrine passed over heading north, it was high so they probably did the right thing.

Down to the farm and a large flock of about 25 chaffinches where in the small copse with three coal tits - it's so unusual to see coal tits at this time of year at Druridge, they are normally just an autumn bird.
One of the coal tits at the farm
House sparrows and skemmie pigeons were numerous around the farm buildings but I was hoping for yellowhammers - I was out of luck there. Stock doves were notable in the fields as I returned along the road to Druridge and a large female sparrowhawk flew past me and landed on the fence.

In the hawthorns a robin sat out - my first of the year.

Robin in the hawthorns
On Saturday Janet joined me and we walked the same route - only this time there was snow underfoot and all around us - the song thrushes on the track had multiplied to four.

Snowy track to the hides where song thrushes flew
The field that held the goldies now had over 70 curlew feeding with a few lapwing, goldies and black-headed gulls for company, with a couple of hundred starling.

As we walked to the farm, two skylark flew up calling, 'the cold weather has brought them in' I said to Janet.

snowy track

frozen fields with a flock of pink-feet flying over
Ten tree sparrows were flitting about the farm with the chaffinches and house sparrows and as we approached the cottages two fieldfare flew over the fields - another bird of hard weather.

In front of Druridge Farm at least 800 pink-footed geese grazed, a single greylag was the only exception. We cut through to the beach hoping for snow buntings which we didn't see but we did see five meadow pipits in the dunes - another species brought in by the cold.

With no home-working this week, it will be the weekend before I am back.. but the evenings are getting lighter now and some post-work birding isn't far off.

Sunday, 27 January 2019

Grim day

It's Sunday, it's wet, windy and cold.

I'll not be heading to the patch today. A great day to catch up with things though, I've written my article for next weeks Northumberland Gazette, which is about Starlings and I've finally finished my trip report for our Georgia trip last April.

It was a great trip and I know some Northumberland birders are heading out there this spring so hopefully it will be useful. You can read it here 

Janet and I had walk around the patch yesterday but it was quiet.

There were up to a thousand pink-footed geese in the fields south of Druridge farm with a handful of curlew and starlings.

In the dunes north of the bushes there was mixed flock of goldfinches and linnets numbering 25 of each.

One budge fields a drake pintail had joined the teal and wigeon but there were no waders.

Pied Wagtail on the beach

Friday, 18 January 2019

Back on the patch

Back on the patch today for my first visit of the year after a two-week birding trip to Taiwan.

Taiwan was interesting and it's not a place many birders get to so we were working somewhat blind but managed to see all but two of the expected endemic species.

It was good to be back on the patch on a cold and crisp sunny morning. I only had time for a quick wander around but added 31 species to the year list. The bushes were quiet as expected, a couple of coal tits were interesting as they are usually an autumn species.

Coal tit
All of the ducks were on the big pool as the Budge fields were frozen solid and there were plenty of them - I'll have a better idea of numbers on Sunday when I do the WeBS count but there were plenty of wigeon and teal.

Drake tufted duck
Pair of Mallards
I wandered up to the north end of the patch and onto the beach along the Dunbar Burn channel where I flushed a jack snipe - it shot out as I approached the end of the channel where there is some wrack accumulated which I presume it was feeding on. 

I didn't see jack snipe last year on the patch. This has happened to me so often, I go a whole year without seeing a species and then see it on my first visit of the next year... Bullfinch, greenfinch. yellowhammer and peregrine are all on that list.

This teal was feeding just beyond where the jack snipe came up from, it stayed put as I walked by, must be plenty of feeding among the rotting weed.

Teal feeding amongst wrack in the Dunbar Burn channel
In the dunes to the north, there was a flock of least 80 twite with a handful of chaffinches, goldfinches and reed buntings.

Reed bunting