Thursday 31 December 2020

It's been a funny sort of year...

Well that's 2020 over and done with. Whilst it's been a awful year for most people due to the ongoing Coronavirus pandemic it's actually been quite a good year for birds on the patch. 

Despite the 'hard-lockdown' that kept me away from the patch for the best part of two months I've smashed my personal year list total, which has stood at 174 for a while now and has been achieved in three years, with a total of 179 species for 2020.

So why such a good year this year?

I only added two new species to my patch list year (Great Reed Warbler in June and Blyth's Reed Warbler in October) so it wasn't lots of new species (like 2017) that did it. Even though it caused me to stay away from the patch for nearly two months, I think COVID-19 has been indirectly responsible for the higher list. Working from home due to the outbreak has given me more time on the patch and as the saying goes 'Time spent in the field = birds'. I hardly missed a morning in the summer and autumn, reverting to lunchtime visits as the days shortened. Add a good autumn and some superb seawatching sessions to more time on the patch and there you have it!

I know that I've missed at least three species - Hoopoe during lockdown that would've been a patch tick, Cattle Egret which I saw at Bells Farm as I drove home from the patch and should've turned around for and a Great Egret which briefly appeared on the Budge fields. A chap called Harrison on eBird has recorded five species that I've not seen in 2020 - A Jay(!!) and three Collared Doves in July, two Yellowhammers in June and Cetti's Warbler and Bearded Tit in March - the latter would be a patch tick for me and is overdue. 

I've busted a gut since I finished work for Christmas to reach 180 but I'm happy with 179. Missing species this year include Collared Dove (for the second year), Merlin, Yellowhammer, Storm Petrel and Grey Plover amongst the commonly occurring species.

As well as the two additions, other rare/scarce highlights have included Tundra Bean Goose, Black-necked Grebe, Balearic Shearwater, Long-tailed Skua (several),  White-rumped Sandpiper, Pectoral Sandpiper, Grey Phalarope, Sabine's Gull and Lapland Bunting.

I've had two long sessions on the patch in the last couple of days, covering it all. I think there's been a cold-weather movement which has resulted in an influx of thrushes - I had a record count of 14 Mistle Thrushes in the field north of the Coal Road yesterday and a couple this morning by the farm. Fieldfares were in the bushes this morning and there's more Song Thrushes about too. 

Mistle Thrush at Druridge Farm
Male Blackbird, feeding in the gloom by the Budge hide.

After seeing very few Pink-footed Geese during December, suddenly there are lots. Janet and I saw at least 5-6000 in one group this morning, circling around before coming in to land in the fields behind Bell's Pond. Tonight from the dunes, at least 5000 flew south and 3-3500 flew north (there may have been some recirculation but there are a lot of geese about. 

Some of the pink-foots coming in to land this morning - they literally filled the sky

The light was stunning at times today, between spells of cloud and some crispy, cold days have provided some nice photo opportunities to end the year. 

Artistic like - silhouetted curlews and wind turbines

And without the turbines
Looking west across the Big Pool this morning
Looking south down the Bay this evening

Looking east across the Big Pool yesterday

Drake Goldeneye taking off

In-coming Curlew

Black-headed Gull in stunning light this evening.

And here is the sun setting over the patch for the last time this year. It just remains for me to wish you everyone who reads this a healthy and happy 2021 - and good birding! Tomorrow it starts all over again.

The sun sets on 2020 from Druridge Links

Sunday 27 December 2020

A goose for Christmas?

A goose for Christmas? Why not?

Two days late - but that doesn't matter.

With my patch year-list perilously close to 180, Janet and I set off this morning with the intention of a walk around by the farm in search of Yellowhammer - a species that has evaded me all year. We didn't reach the farm - a flock of geese stopped us in our tracks.

Some of the flock

There was a huge flock of Pink-footed Geese in the 'Front Field' at Druridge - "there must be something different among that lot" I said, and we pulled over - scope out. It was a bitterly cold wind, cold enough to bring a tear to the eye! 

I started scanning through the geese, which Janet estimated numbered about 2000, until I got onto a different bird, with thick orange legs and I immediately thought Bean goose - but which one? I went to get Janet and my phone from the car and lost the bird, another 300 geese arrived. Another 25 minutes of searching through them, I found it again, I got better, but brief views of the orange legs (most definitely orange, I've seen Pink-foots with  'orangey' or 'orangish' legs - these were pure orange - and thick.), head and bill shape and bill colour. The bird looked thick-necked and a bit more bull-headed than the pinks but the colour on the bill was definitely more orange than pink and it extended down to the gape. I was pretty-sure this was a Taiga Bean Goose and attempted some digi-scoped shots just before the bird sat down and promptly went to sleep with it's head under it's wing. I put the news out on the chance I was right.

Orange-legged bird on right (digi-scoped)
Orange-legged bird at top - note thick orange legs but 'thick neck, bull-head'
Orange-legged bird left of central group, but again, looks thick-necked. Not so obvious on this pic but colour in bill was more orange than pink, but bill not the right shape for Taiga Bean

Graham Sorrie arrived and it was still asleep and then the Farooqi boys arrived. The bird woke up and Jonny got straight to work on it, he thought that the bill-shape didn't look right and neither did the tail, which was very much a 'Pink-footed' tail. Taiga Bean was ruled out and were looking at an odd Pink-foot with very orange legs, a shorter, thicker neck and orange in the bill but everything else about seemed to fit Pink-foot.

Jonny started scanning the flock and soon picked out another orange-legged bird, this time it was a Bean - but of the Tundra variety. The bird came very close but my photos were rubbish - this is the best I could do. 

Tundra Bean 'arse-on' showing tail pattern and thick orange legs.

Everyday is a school-day when you're birding. A quick look at photos on the Macaulay Library when I got home confirmed the bill-shape and tail were wrong for Taiga Bean, but an interesting bird nonetheless. 

I did get a walk around the farm this afternoon without a Yellowhammer to be seen. 

It was a nice walk though, in the late afternoon sunshine. The sky looked ominous a couple of times but it stayed dry.


Six Mistle Thrush were in the fields by the Coal Road and both Redwings and Fieldfare in the Hawthorns by the farm. Near the Preceptory, two Water Pipits were feeding in a wet corner next to the Dunbar Burn, before flying off, calling. Presumably two of the birds from the nearby Budge fields.

Fieldfare at High Chibburn
The Budge fields, with a flock duck, and the dunes from the 'other side'

There was still some light when I got back to the car, so I had a look on the sea. Gulls were pouring in from the land to roost on the sea, Black-headed and Common, but as they settled I scanned through and counted at least nine Mediterranean Gulls amongst them - there could've been many more as gulls were still arriving but he light was going. I estimated 3200 in total by the time I left.

Tundra Bean Goose takes the year-list to 179. Tomorrow I shall be mostly scoping the chimney pots and TV aerials at Widdrington Village for Collared Doves. 

Thursday 24 December 2020

All Grey

Apologies for the lack of posts recently, it's not that I've not been to the patch, I've been most days, there just hasn't been much to write about.

December is usually a bit spartan but this December seems more so. It's hardly been light enough to bother taking the camera out - sunny days have been few and far between, just day after day of grey and rain.

The wind was out of the north for much of yesterday and strengthened into the evening - strong enough to bring some Little Auks down? - only one way to find out. When I got up this morning it was sleeting hard and just looked miserable, but a check of 'Rain Alarm' suggested a brief window of dry weather from 11ish, which happened to coincide with high tide.

The sleet promptly cleared away at 10:50 and I was set up for a seawatch. The sea was big and the wind still out of the north but it felt quiet - quiet enough to count gulls and auks - mostly unidentifiable dots on the edge of the world but a few came close and the sun had come out providing a really nice light. 

Nice light

About 15 minutes in I picked up a small pale-grey bird, almost looking white in the sunshine, heading north just beyond the breakers, it was disappearing into the troughs but as it drew level I got some good views - it was a Grey Phalarope. This is the third Grey Phalarope I've seen on the patch - and I've always thought how pot-bellied they look, side-on, like a little dove or pigeon - they're a compact little thing too. Virtually white below, with darker-grey upperparts and a really obvious white wing bar on the upper wing. The dark 'eye-mask' stood out in the strong light, I didn't really notice the bill - it must've had one!

It kept going north along the bay, hugging the line just beyond the breakers. I notice that Jonathon Farooqi had one much earlier at Church Point so it's unlikely this was the same bird, unless it stopped-off to feed en route?

Seawatching continued to be quiet in terms of numbers but plenty of variety. I had a skua species heading south, again on the edge of the known world - it was just a shape really, towering constantly as it went south. I thought Pom but more likely a Bonxie as the Newbiggin lads had a few south and Bonxies are usually distant birds at Druridge. Other highlights included both Great Northern and Black-throated Divers and a drake Velvet Scoter with a smattering of Red-throated Divers, Gannets, Kittiwakes etc

I continued until 12:20 when a heavy sleet shower arrived. No Little Auks but the Grey Phal more than made-up for that. Full list here. 


Last weekend was a bit frustrating. We'd bumped into Janet's parents just as we were leaving Druridge - they headed off north for a walk. Later in the afternoon, Janet's Dad messaged to say he had seen a male Hawfinch on the fence along the Bridleway north of the turning circle. We spent an hour-and-a-half looking but no joy - it could've been anywhere. Alan knows his birds so little chance of mis-ID. Another patch-tick missed this year. I'll have to insist that he takes his mobile with him when he's on my patch!

Otherwise not much to report - the Water Pipits (up to three) are still on the Budge fields but are difficult to spot, up to two Chiffchaffs are sticking it out but this cold snap might move them on and three Scaup have regularly been seen on the big pool. A few Bullfinches are also hanging about - not a common over-winterer at Druridge.

My year list is now at 178 - is 180 still a possibility? Some wintery weather might be needed.

Here's some photos I've taken since my last post. Happy Christmas everyone.

Sanderling probing for food amongst the froth

I usually don't like 'running' wader photos
Little Grebe on the big pool - one of two

Catching a few fish...

Never get bored of Stonechats

Grey Partridge  - there's been up to 17 in the weedy dunes

Sunday 6 December 2020

What a pipit!

I was seawatching from the dunes this morning when a message came through on the Whatsapp group to say that Tariq Farooqi was watching one, maybe two Water Pipits from the Budge hide. Seawatching had been quiet so I headed straight there, Tariq was still there but wasn't seeing the birds. Shortly after I got there, a pipit flew - calling, like a water pipit. We got onto it just in front of the hide and watched it for a few minutes before all hell-broke loose when a Sparrowhawk arrived and scattered everything before flying off with a Starling. 

Yesterday, Janet and I were at the timber screen when I heard a pipit calling and I said 'that sounds like Water Pipit'  - we never saw it, then the hailstones came down and we headed home - probably was!

Water Pipit is my 177th species for the year on the patch and my first on the patch since March 2018. They became reasonably common for a couple of years on the Budge fields and then nothing...

I've done a couple of seawatches this weekend - both were pretty quiet. Today a couple of Great Northern Divers went north as did 26 Red-throats including a group of 15! Two Velvet Scoters were with the scoter flock and two flew north and there was a good count of 124 Sanderling on the beach. Two Great Northern Divers went through yesterday too, one in each direction.

No photos this week, it's been too dark!

The vocal Chiffchaff was still calling by the wooden screen this morning and through the week. A December Chiffchaff is always nice. 

Sunday 29 November 2020


Dank - it's a good adjective and is commonly used at this time of year to describe the weather. Today was dank. Janet and I walked around by the farm in hope of seeing Collared Dove, Yellowhammer or even a Merlin but we were without luck, The year-list is still on 176.

Much of the week has been dank. Even with my walks being at lunchtime, there's hardly been enough light to warrant taking the camera out. Yesterday morning started out bright but very cold with a hard frost, but the dank soon set back in and there's been next to no wind for a few days. We tried to catch some finches in the dunes without success, in fact there were hardly any birds at all, the 130-strong flock of birds that I saw on Friday must've been elsewhere. There were at least 30 Twite with Chaffinches, Goldfinch and Linnet.

Twite feeding in the dunes
Same bird
Male Stonechat on the fence by the cyclepath

I was thrown slightly on Friday by a bird on the big pool. It was a duck, bobbing about, fast asleep and I only had my bins. 

Mystery duck

When it woke and lifted its head it was identifiable as a female Common Scoter - it was just a bit out of context on the big pool. 

Female Common Scoter on the big pool

Otherwise it's been relatively quiet. There's been a vocal Chiffchaff by the path to the hides all week, it was still there today and Woodcock have flushed every time I've walked through the bushes. Three Ruff were with over 50 Redshank on the field north of the Coal Road on Monday.

I had a look on the sea on Thursday, a nice Great Northern Loon was close in, close enough to see some 'checker-boarding' on its back. A Med Gull went south and about 21 Red-throated Loons were also on the sea. This was the view from the dunes.

Sunshine on The Cheviot from Druridge through a 400mm lens. Hedgehope is the domed hill to the right of the photo and that's Swarland in the middle-distance. 

Sunday 22 November 2020

Winter birding

The last of the Blackbirds from the huge invasion earlier in the month are hanging on, making their way through the remaining Hawthorn berries are the last remnant of Autumn. Otherwise it feels like winter. 

Wintering duck numbers have started to build up on the Budge fields, with Wigeon numbering about 160 but there's fewer Teal. The big pools is virtually bereft of life, I've not seen one, but I fancy there's an Otter about which will deter wildfowl from settling.

Elsewhere on the patch the 'front field' at Druridge Farm is attracting big flocks of Lapwing and Golden Plover with a maximum of 560 and 320 respectively this week. Scanning through plover flocks - proper winter birding. 

Some of the Golden Plover flock this morning

I took Thursday off work on the strength of a strengthening northerly wind which ended up as a bit of a damp squib - it came from the right place, just not for long enough. Me decision paid-off though as my flexi-day-off meant I could go to Amble to see the (American) Buff-bellied Pipit that was found the previous day. Janet and I joined a few hardy-souls at first light and after an hour or so of searching, the bird was re-found on the beach giving the assembled (socially-distant) twitchers good views. A new bird for Northumberland and the Western Palearctic for me.

Heavily-cropped shot of the Buff-bellied Pipit
Female-type Stonechat at Amble
Rock Pipit

I did go seawatching in the afternoon from 1pm to dusk. A Black-throated Diver headed north was new for the year (176), other highlights were two Velvet Scoter north and a lovely Sooty Shearwater, really close in nice light, through the breakers, before heading off north. There was decent auk passage, a few Gannets and Kittiwakes including a single flock of 37 of the latter. Full list here.

Seawatching was quiet so I was distracted by these horses

Janet and I walked the length of the patch and back on both Saturday and Sunday morning. Highlights include a Snow Bunting over, 110 Twite in the dunes (they were on the beach on Friday when it was quieter), Great-spotted Woodpecker and a late Chiffchaff which was calling like mad in the bushes - a nice reminder of Autumn.

Black-headed Gull on the sea today
Guillemot on the sea
Red-throated Loon on the sea

I'm changing my work regime from tomorrow to make better us of the daylight hours so my weekday patch visits will be at lunchtime until February. 

Some more winter birds from this week...

male Stonechat


Sunday 15 November 2020

A record-breaking year

Five Scaup flew south during my afternoon seawatch today - nothing unusual there, but these Scaup were a year-tick, 175 for the year and a new patch record!

The previous record of 174 was first set in 2016 and matched again in 2017 and I've been stuck on 174 since 28th October this year. This year has been a record-breaker for a lot of patch-workers and year-listers, it has been a good autumn which will have helped but for me, it's been the COVID restrictions and working from home that have made the difference, despite missing two months on the patch between March and May (and a Hoopoe)

Since lockdown was eased and I could get back to the patch, I've hardly missed a day. Working from home means I can get out for a walk on the patch before work. If I was going into the office, I'd have to have a shower, iron a shirt, have breakfast and commute to the office. Nowadays, I finish birding, grab a slice of toast and switch my computer on. Taking a walk before work also makes me ready for work more than crawling out of bed and straight to work would. I'm not looking forward to next week (or maybe the week after) when it's too dark before work and I switch to lunchtime walks but at least I'll still be on the patch. 

There's still a few possible species and 180 could be achievable?

Black-throated Diver, Little Auk, Water Pipit, Yellowhammer, Collared Dove, Spotted Redshank as well as outsiders like a white-winged gull, Bean goose, Green-winged Teal, Great Egret or even a Waxwing are possible.

Also on my seawatch today I had a dark juvenile Pomarine Skua headed south, A November Pom! It was beautifully-lit in nice light about half way out, the low sun making it look a bit gingery, more like an Arctic but the deep wingbeats, powerful flight and pot-bellied all pointed to Pom. Med Gull, a few Gannets and good count of 26 Red-throated Loons was also notable. 

There has been a good high-tide gathering of Ringed Plovers on the beach opposite the plantation lately, Janet and I counted 41 yesterday and there were about 30 today. The beach was so busy with people and dogs, they could hardly land before being pushed back out, but they always returned to the same place. Seawatch list

Some of the ringed plover on the beach on Saturday

It was also WeBS today, it was quiet though with very few waders or ducks - 163 Wigeon was a canny count   - full list here. 

Birding has moved into winter mode - other than a few Blackbirds and Redwing hanging on, the last-gasps of autumn, it feels like winter now. 

It's been good for Bullfinch this week and this year in general. Three females fed by the road earlier in the week and we had three males beyond the hides today - so that's six different bullies.

Sorry for the lack of photos, it's been so dark in the mornings I've not taken any, other than this dead eel on the beach. 

Dead Eel

The forecast for the tail-end of the week looks like strong northerly winds coming right out of the Barents Sea. I feel a seawatch coming on. 

Sunday 8 November 2020

Twite and Blackbirds

Saturday on the patch was dominated by Twite and today by Blackbirds.

On Saturday Janet and I had another go at ringing in the dunes north of the turning circle, our first attempt last month was reasonably successful and since then the Twite have arrived back.

Some of the Twite flock

At first we caught Reed Buntings with Tree Sparrows and a Chaffinch. The Twite flock was very mobile, feeding for a while, then moving on, we estimated that about 180 of them in two flocks with Goldfinch and Linnets.

Patience paid-off and we eventually caught four Twite -the first we've ever caught at Druridge despite being part of a colour-ringing scheme a few years ago. 


Tree Sparrow

The flock came down to a small pool beside the coal haul-road which enabled me to get some photos as they assembled on the barbed-wire fence.

Twite after bathing
The male on the right is showing off the nice pink rump


Also notable yesterday were three Mistle Thrushes - My first on the patch since the 1st of January!

Today, we had planned to ring in the bushes, probably our last chance of the year but we awoke to heavy fog/fine mizzle, it was too wet to ring. So we went for a wander instead. 

Our walk was dominated by Blackbirds. There had obviously been a big arrival of them overnight. There were a few Redwings too and a handful of Song Thrush and Fieldfare but it was Blackbirds that dominated - we estimated well over 140 in the bushes.

A typical scene this morning - Blackbirds everywhere

Other than thrushes, it was quiet. The Siberian Chiffchaff from Thursday was still in the same spot, we flushed a Woodcock and a few Redpoll flew south and over 40 Goldfinch were by the turning circle. We walked back by the beach to look for Snow Buntings or Shorelarks without any luck - then the drizzle set in so we headed home.

There aren't many leaves left on the bushes now so I think another autumnal ringing session is unlikely.