Thursday, 26 March 2020

Covid not Corvids

Well it looks as though it might be sometime before I get back onto the patch. With the Covid-19 pandemic forcing the country into lockdown current restrictions prevent me from driving to my patch. It doesn't seem to prevent the masses of dog-walkers who still think it's okay to drive down there to empty their dogs.

I've not been on my bike for a couple of years, but I might have to get it sorted so I can bike down to Druridge - obviously being sensible and not using hides and keeping as safe distance from everyone.

In the meantime I'm pottering around, taking short walks from home which has been quite nice. All around our house are fields and wooded denes where you can walk for hours be unlucky to meet others. It's been nice to see woodland birds that I don't usually see like jays, nuthatches and willow tits. Strangely no great-spotted woodpeckers though... but sadly, plenty of grey squirrels.

I did get to the coast this morning by walking down to Snab Point which is only a mile from home.

My last visit to the patch was Sunday. We'd driven for six hours back from the Scottish Highlands where we'd been staying in a cottage for a week near to Tain on the Moray Firth so went down to Druridge to stretch our legs. We didn't get there until 5pm and it was still like a Bank Holiday weekend, wall to wall cars by the entrance. It was like people had one last freedom and they were going to use it.

We avoided the crowds by wandering through the bushes. We flushed a roosting barn owl, it's unusual to find barn owls in those bushes but not unheard of, we also flushed a woodcock. I haven't seen a woodcock on the patch since the 18th January last year! This must be a bird resting before continuing it's eastward migration.

Full list here

There'll be a lot less blog posts for a while unless I get the bike sorted.

Red kite from Scotland - maybe I'll see one at Druridge this Autumn?

Stay safe out there.

Saturday, 14 March 2020

Not in Andalucía

I shouldn't have been at my desk writing a blog post this afternoon, I should've been in Bolonia near Tarifa in Spain, looking at vultures and migrating raptors.

Ages ago we booked a 10-day trip to Andalucía, with a few days around Tarifa followed by a trip out the wonderful Doñana National Park, staying at El Rocío - a place I've not been to since 2004.

As the news about Coronavirus began to unfold from Spain on Thursday our trip was still on but looking doubtful, by yesterday afternoon it was looking dicey and by 8pm last night we decided to cancel as Spain declared a state of emergency and it looked likely that the whole country would soon be in lock-down. We did the right thing as Jet2 flights bound for Spain turned around mid-air this morning and headed back to the UK.

I was really looking forward to this trip. I've got two weeks (valuable) annual leave, which I have to take this month - wasted!

So this morning, instead of being on a plane headed for Malaga - guess what? I was at Druridge in the gloomy grey and cold dampness, counting ducks.

I missed the WeBS count last week, so caught up with that. There was a lot to count with many of the wintering species still present in good numbers including 196 wigeon and 84 each of curlew and redshank. Predictably lapwing numbers have decreased but birds are displaying now.

Displaying lapwing 
A good smattering of waders including the first two avocet of the year, four ruff, eight dunlin, two black-tailed godwits and a single snipe.

Teal numbers have decreased to 41 but the shoveler count remains high at 31. A pair of pintail were still present. A flock of 35 whooper swans flew north overhead, bound for Iceland - Coronavirus doesn't stop them from flying. 

On the big pool, tufted ducks numbered 26 and a couple of cormorants fed. A single great-crested grebe is holding territory but no sign of a mate yet. 

Feeding cormorant

This hybrid/domestic/mallard thing has been hanging around for a couple of years, this drake mallard seemed particularly attracted to it...
In the bushes, spring is starting to stir with singing resident birds evident. It won;t be long before the first chiffs are back. In the dunes, the first meadow pipits are back - parachuting in song. 

Scarlet elf-cup fungus - looking a bit chewed since I first found it last week
Offshore there was plenty of red-breasted mergansers, red-throated divers and a flock of about 35 common scoter. My first lesser-black backed gull of the year flew south and a couple of gannets passed by. 

We've booked a few days away in Scotland so not all my annual leave will be wasted but I fear that it won't be long until the UK is in 'lockdown' to use tabloid language. Will that stop me going to Druridge?

Friday, 6 March 2020

Could it be spring?

Could it be Spring?

It felt like it this afternoon but down on the patch first thing it was a cold and frosty start. -1 degrees C but hardly a breeze and a lovely white frost.

Frosty start
Despite the cold, spring was in the air for the stonechats as they chased each other around the turning circle and for the skylarks who sang out above my head. Towards Chibburn lapwings were tumbling - it is spring y'know!

One  the stonechats - pausing for a while before resuming his courtship
Out in the fields about 780 pink-footed geese grazed - it's still winter...

I continued down to the Budge screen where it was nice to catch up with ADMc who was counting the grey herons, he'd got to 29 which is an impressive count for the patch and might indicate a good breeding season ahead - they'll be on eggs soon.

The other 'Budge' highlights included the three almost resident ruff, one of which is very lucky to be still with us. Andy called out a peregrine speeding low, north, it flushed the waders and ducks before gaining some height to stoop on one of the ruff, the ruff darted left and avoided being breakfast.

The three ruff coming back in to land - one of them very lucky to be there!
There weren't many wader s on the Budge in contrast to Saturday when there 153 redshank, 16 dunlin and 53 curlew.

One of Saturday's 153 redshank
In the fields beyond the Budge were more geese, pink-foots mostly but a scan through them produced three Eurasian white-fronts. Disturbed by something, all of the geese got up and estimated 1000 or so, added to my 780 earlier by the haul road,  I jotted down 'c1700'.

Shoveler numbers are still good - I estimated 41.

With chores to do I, I left Andy chatting to Marty Anderson and headed home. One of my more enjoyable chores was to clean out and check our 30 or so tree sparrow boxes at Ellington Pond Nature Reserve. Two water rails weren't put out by my presence and chased each other around the pond-margins squealing like pigs!

Two views of carrion crows
Coot from Saturday

Friday, 28 February 2020

Late February update

There hasn't been a blog update for a while for two reasons; firstly, I've not managed to get down to the patch very much and secondly, there hasn't bee much to report when I have been there. As storm after storm have chased each other across the Atlantic bringing bands of heavy rain and gale force winds it hasn't been conducive to birding.

Recent highlights have included three, sometimes four Eurasian white-fronted geese, which seem to be hanging around with the Canada geese or the feral greylags. 

The week before last a drake (American) green-winged teal was reported from the Budge fields, I tried a couple of times to see it but without luck, it may well have been there but Storm Dennis was lashing the reserve and the teal were all cowering behind rushes for shelter. ADMc also found a female Garganey - seemingly only the second winter record for the County!

Last Sunday I was down on the patch for dusk. An impressive arrival of (mainly) common gulls came in from the west and settled on the sea, the tide was well in. By the time I left, I (conservatively) estimated 2500 had gathered on the sea or on the beach.

On Thursday afternoon I went up to Chibburn Mouth to see if the beach is going to be suitable for fencing for terns this year - it has potential. On my way north I counted about 82 twite in the dunes amongst the cattle to the north of the turning circle.

Some of the 82 twite in the dunes
I returned by the beach as the sun dipped behind the dunes. Black-headed gulls and passing red-breasted mergansers entertained me on my way. 

Drake red-breasted merganser headed north

At the mouth of the Dunbar Burn, the water has taken a northerly route, cutting away at the face of the dune and making progress along the beach impossible without wellies or a diversion to the cycleway bridge. I opted to use the concrete blocks as giant stepping stones, which could have been disastrous with a tonne of camera around my neck.

Giant stepping stones
On the 'other side' a passerine was scouring the edge of the water for food - bins on it - a snow bunting! I sat on a bit of concrete and waited for the bird to make it's way along the shore from the shadows into the late evening sunshine and it duly obliged.

In the shadows

Beautiful 'golden-hour' light on the snow bunt

My presence didn't phase the snow bunting and I took dozens of shots and could've taken more but frostbite had set in. Back into the dunes, the sun had dropped as had the temperature, 2 degrees, feeling colder in the stiffening wind. I was freezing after spending half an hour with the snow bunting but the cold didn't deter two brave girls who were in the sea  - in bikinis! Nutters.

Things got stranger as I headed for the Budge fields, with what appeared to be a scantily-clad girl in some kind of glamour shoot... It's a strange place Druridge. 

Wigeon in flight as dusk

Tuesday, 11 February 2020

Storm Ciara lashes WeBS counters

Two WeBS counters who were stupid enough to go out on Sunday found themselves lashed by Storm Ciara at a nature reserve in Druridge Bay, Northumberland.

Actually , it wasn't that bad...

Okay it was a bit blowy, especially counting hundreds of ducks with precious-little shelter provided by the Budge screen.

I started counting the grazing wigeon which were the most numerous duck, I got to 294 when they shot up in the air - a reaction to a creamy-crowned marsh harrier headed their way. All of the waterfowl had relocated to the middle of the widest part of the pool. Back to counting 1,2,3.... 348 - not a bad count for Druridge but nearly one hundred less than last months count.

A second marsh harrier came through  - this time an adult male.

Other notable counts included 13 grey heron which were seeking shelter behind the trees, nest-building on hold until the storm died down (whenever that will be), 42 shoveler, 168 teal and 57 curlew. Other notable waders included singles of  black-tailed godwit, ruff and dunlin.

A third marsh harrier came through - this time a sub-adult male.

Off to the Oddie hide. There were waves on the big pool and all of the birdlife was seeking shelter at the western end. In the field north of the coal haul road, there was a group of whooper swans, obscured by the hedge, they would require a closer look from the turning circle.

I estimated 44 whooper swans, they were difficult to count as they were also hunkered down out of the wind. They were loosely associated with a flock of 140 Canada geese and 60 pinks.

On our way home we stopped to scan a flock of pinks - over 400 - in the front field and picked up 4 Eurasian white-fronted geese at the back of the flock. There seems to be a few more white-fronts in the county this week.

Full list on eBird

Monday, 27 January 2020

Sharing the patch

On Saturday I had the opportunity to share my local patch with a group from the Natural History Society of Northumbria. This is the second guided tour of the patch I've given recently after the North Northumberland Bird Club visited in October.

About 18 participants came along and my colleague Ellie made sure that we didn't lose anyone along the way. I think I was allowed to lose up to 10 per cent of them.

We had three hours and I took them on what would be a normal walk around the patch for me. We had to be done by midday so I could get to the football on time so we didn't have time for a seawatch.

And in the round window...
We started at the entrance to the reserve after some confusion about the meeting point had been resolved and everyone enjoyed good views of the local celebrity - the little owl was in his favoured spot of the round window.

Five whooper swans were in the front field.

Four of the five whooper swans
Passerines were thin-on-the-ground but everyone enjoyed the spectacle of hundreds of waders and ducks on the Budge fields, notably curlew, lapwing, wigeon and teal. We had a huge count of 19 grey herons and watched them carrying nesting material into the shelterbelt. They'll be on eggs soon.

Onward to the Oddie hide. There wasn't much to see on the big pool, a couple of goldeneye and little grebes were nice, so we made our way north to the dunes along the coal road. before we got there a huge flock of pink-footed geese came south, well over 1000. A lot kept going bu hundreds landed in the fields west of the road.

Some of the pink-feet heading south
A flock of 40 or so twite flitted back and forth, settling close-by at time affording great views through the scope. There were linnets, reed buntings and chaffinches in with them. Tariq Farooqi kindly put the group on to a huge female peregrine that he had found perched on a fencepost beyond the geese and everyone enjoyed good views of it.

The group enjoying the peregrine on a post
We managed to see 38 species by my reckoning, which isn't bad given the size of the group and the time of year.

I made it to the match on time. Maybe I should've just stayed at Druridge?

Our list on eBird

Thursday, 2 January 2020

Two things are guaranteed...

Two things are usually guaranteed on New Years Day on the patch:

1) I will see a species that I didn't see in the previous year. Over the years this list has included merlin, peregrine and slavonian grebe amongst others. This year it was pochard.

Two drake pochards heading south
I half-expected it to be long-tailed duck as one was reported on New Years Eve and it was LTD I was looking for when I saw the two drake pochards on the big pool.

2) Some mentalists will be in the sea

At least this girl kept her bikini top on, the two in 2018 didn't!

New Years Day was beautiful day and Janet and I had a good wander around the patch, taking in the big pool, Budge fields, bushes, sea and dunes to the north and saw 56 species - not a bad start to the year list. Other than the two pochards, other highlights were two velvet scoters flying south offshore, 60 twite in the dunes, a goldcrest (very rare in winter), a pair of pintail, a kestrel (first since July!), 250 golden plover and two of the four ruff from last week. We scanned through the pink-footed geese in the front field but couldn't find the white-fronts.

Busier than a summer day
By the time we headed home just before 2pm, the place was rammed, everyone and their dog(s) had descended on Druridge Bay. When we left, we had to queue to get out because people had parked on both sides of the road, leaving no room for cars to pass. It was like August Bank Holiday Monday!

Link to eBird list for NYD

Today was colder with a stiff breeze from the SW. I quickly checked through the geese (still no white-fronts) and the Budge fields where the four ruff had returned and had been joined by a dunlin. I also added blue tit and shelduck to the year list

List from today