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.