Monday, 19 October 2020

Pinkies

About 3000 Pink-footed Geese are roosting overnight on the Budge fields at the moment. Whilst I was in the hide this morning, at about 08.20, about two-thirds of them got up and left. I took this video, make sure you play it with the sound on!


The remaining third were on the water and were still there when I left. If anyone is really bored they could check my accuracy of the count.

Also of note this morning was a single Yellow-browed Warbler by the timber screen.



Sunday, 18 October 2020

Ringing again

I succumbed and went to Holy Island yesterday to see the Brown Shrike that's been there for three days, we enjoyed good but distant views of the bird which should be making it's way down the Pacific coast of Asia or somewhere now. The 'supporting cast' was canny too -  a Red-Flanked Bluetail and a Dusky Warbler in the village. I don't enjoy twitching but it was nice to see some people you don't get to see very often as well as some great birding. It was too busy for me though. There was a handful of Red-flanked Bluetails in the county this weekend - a skeleton I need to lay to rest at Druridge after screwing one up a few years ago.

After my 'away-day' I was back on the patch this morning with Janet to do some ringing. Conditions were good but we were disappointed to only catch 29 new birds. For an Autumn day, after easterly winds, not to catch ANY thrushes, Robins or Chaffinches is unheard of.

We did catch a species that we've never caught before on the patch. As I approached our 'bridge' net, a flash of iridescent blue shot along the channel that links the Budge fields to the Big Pool, I'd disturbed a Kingfisher which must've been fishing for minnows. The channel goes into a bramble thicket so I didn't expect it would get very far and I was right, it doubled-back and straight into our net. 

Female Kingfisher

Same bird showing the iridescent blue rump

Kingfishers aren't common on the patch, averaging one very three years, but I've seen them in four out of the past five years, so maybe they are becoming less-scarce?

The usual 'Autumn' birds made up the rest of the catch. A couple of Blackcaps, one of which was carrying a lot of fat, two Bullfinch and three Siskins were unusual.

First-winter male Blackcap
Female Bullfinch
Male Bullfinch
Male Siskin

Between net-rounds we saw a Lesser Whitethroat making its way along the Whitebeams, a Yellow-browed Warbler and most unusual a Green Woodpecker! It was picked up heading north by Welsh Joe - "What's that? It's flying like a woodpecker" because it was a woodpecker, a Green Woodpecker. It kept going north until it was out-of-sight. Only my second-ever on the patch after a fly through (also north ) on 7th October 2017. A Great-spotted Woodpecker was hanging around, calling all for most of the morning, but we didn't catch it. 

I also did the WeBS count today. Teal numbers have picked up to 121 and Wigeon to 60, waders were scarce - 97 Lapwing, 36 Curlew and a Redshank.

We packed-up just after 2pm. 

Friday, 16 October 2020

Ringing or twitching?

I had a difficult decision to make yesterday morning - do as I had planned to do, and go to Druridge and ring some birds or go and twitch the (probable, as it was then) Broon Shrike on Holy Island?

I like seeing rare birds, especially in Northumberland but I hate twitching and I hate twitches - they usually end up disappointing, I either don't see the bird (usually because of I've put going to see it off for too long) or I do see it but the experience is disappointing. Twitching does attract the worst kind of birdwatcher, and occasionally, twitches bring out the worst in otherwise perfectly normal birdwatchers. Ethically, driving 100 miles to see a bird doesn't stack-up either.

We went ringing.

It was worthwhile, we caught 42 birds (38 new, 4 retraps). Amongst the usual autumnal species we caught two Lesser Whitethroats, both were carefully examined to eliminate rarer eastern races but nothing pointed towards to that. Lesser Whitethroats are scarce anyway but arriving with Yellow-browed Warblers (we caught one of these) in mid-October, they need to be carefully scrutinised. We caught a few Long-tailed Tits, Goldcrests, Lesser Redpolls and probably the rarest bird for the patch  - Treecreeper.

Again this was scrutinised for 'northern' race but it was a 'brittanica'.

Treecreeper


Yellow-browed Warbler
Lesser Whitethroat

Other than ringing, a Woodcock was flushed as we set the nets up, first of the autumn, and a Short-eared Owl arrived in-off the sea. It was immediately mobbed by crows that pushed it higher and higher until it disappeared off west. A female bullfinch was interesting as was a flock of 17 Greenfinch heading north over the bushes - a really notable record for the patch. 

Short-eared Owl - in-off.

I had a quick look offshore in the evening. There was strong Gannet and Kittiwake passage, a Slavonian Grebe and a handful of Red-throated Divers were on the Sea.

Juvenile Great Black-backed Gull

Friday was forecast to have lighter winds and generally settled and was time to hatch our much procrastinated plan to try and catch the finch flock in the dunes north of the turning circle, Holy Island and the Broon Shrike would have to wait.

It was windier and brighter than we would've liked but we set up two two-shelf nets through the weedy dunes where the finch-flock congregate. Whilst we were setting up, a Lapland Bunting went north, calling. 

Despite the 'nice' weather (not nice for ringing) it was quite successful, for catching Reed Buntings at least, ten of them, we also caught two Chaffinch, two Linnet and a Dunnock. This operation had potential but the window is narrow before the cows arrive.

One of ten Reed Buntings

It was quite mild in the sunshine and out of the nor'easter wind, which brought out a few insects.

Small Copper butterfly

Eupeodes sp Hoverlfy

After ringing, I had a wander around the bushes. By the turning-circle there was a Chiffchaff, Yellow-browed Warbler (the one we ringed yesterday probably) and a Lesser Whitethroat that was only seen briefly but the head looked good for an eastern-race bird. 

Wren

Goldcrest - a male, doing an impression of a squash ball

Inquisitive or miserable-looking?

I finished with a look on the sea. As I was staring out into the horizon, I was startled by a voice from below " Excuse me, are you the chap who writes the blog?"

Me - "Druridge Diary? yes that's me"

Him - " I follow it and read it regularly, I thought it must be you, so I though I'd say hello"

What a really nice thing to do. I'm pleased someone reads this. I forgot to ask his name, but whoever you are, do leave a comment below if you read this, it was really nice of you to stop and say hello!

I might go to Holy Island tomorrow...

Wednesday, 14 October 2020

A bit of a damp squib

With the wind of the northeast and rain overnight, today could have been mega or as the winds were only originating from the near continent it could've been very disappointing. 

It wasn't a mega by any means, but it wasn't without some highlights. One bird could've made all the difference, I just couldn't find it despite spending the best part of eight hours on the patch. 

Janet joined me and we started at the Plantation and worked our way north, checking all suitable habitat. The male Blackcap that has been guarding his patch of elderberries by the entrance was joined by two or three more - we saw at least nine Blackcaps this morning so a small arrival.

Young male Blackcap guarding his Elderberries

Other than a few Goldcrests, Redwings and flyover Skylarks, things were quiet until we reached the patch to the hides and heard a Yellow-browed Warbler calling, it flitted about in the willows and Whitebeam, showing well for a Yellow-brow. It was nice for Welsh Joe to get some pics as he's been complaining he hasn't managed to photograph one well - they are so tricky. Whilst we watched this bird a second Yellow-browed called beyond it and then a real patch Mega showed briefly - Treecreeper! Not even a year tick after the one in the plantation earlier this month.

Yellow-browed Warbler with a caterpillar

Same Yellow-brow, side-on. They don't normally stay still long enough for photos like this

Look, I'm not an Eastern-crowned Warbler

By the bridge, it was sheltered and a couple of Speckled Wood butterflies were on the wing and this stunning Comma sunned itself.

Comma - a very uncommon butterfly on the patch, especially in October!

A common autumn butterfly nowadays - Speckled Wood

We wandered north. Up at the turning circle, in the Blackthorn thicket, we had at least three Chiffchaffs and another Yellow-browed Warbler. We also saw another Phylloscopus warbler briefly that remains unidentified. Five Pochards were on the big pool which are notable as they are increasingly scarce species at Druridge. 

Patch scarcities - five Pochard on the big pool

Hunting Kestrel

After lunch, I headed back to look for the mystery phylosc but with no luck. A flock of Long-tailed Tits came through, which we hadn't seen  in the morning, with a Yellow-brow in tow. In the dunes to the north, the finch/bunting flock was restless, when they did land, there was at least five Twite with them, my first of the Autumn as well as 30+ Lesser Redpolls and handful of Tree Sparrows, Goldcrests and other finches, otherwise they were mostly Linnets. Over 30 Reed Buntings fed independently of the flock.

One of over 30 Reed Buntings in the weedy dunes - ISO3200 so it's turned out bad!

At 4.30 I gave up and tried a seawatch. It started quietly and then it pissed-it-down. I stuck it out for an hour seeing very little. Two Goldeneye with a Slavonian Grebe on the sea were noteworthy. 

Cold and wet I headed home after over eight hours on the patch and 65 species. 


I'll be back tomorrow.

Tuesday, 13 October 2020

Wet and windy walk

We dodged the worst of the rain for our walk around the patch this morning, the wind has moved around to the north, force four or five at times, already whipping the sea up, with white horses against the lead-grey sky. 

After walking north and only seeing a few thrushes in the bushes, we walked back by the beach, the Gannets and even Common Scoters were quite close to the shore so I tried my luck with some photos even the light was very poor. These shots are all in colour, although, with some of them, you wouldn't think so.

Scoters and Gannets battling against the wind

Scoters headed north - this may as well have been a monochrome shot

Scoters against the sky

Juvenile Gannet against the breakers

Same bird as above 


Adult Gannet in a bit of sunshine

Same photo but monochrome

Sanderling on the beach


A bit of colour but a monochrome bird - male Blackcap feeding in the Elderberries


Monday, 12 October 2020

Rained-off

The forecast today was for rain from about 9am. For once it was bang-on. 

Janet and I walked the length of the patch and got back tot he car 09.22  - just as the heavens opened. About 750 Pink-footed Geese took off from the Budge Field just before we got to the hide, presumably they'd roosted there overnight? Otherwise there wasn't much of note on our walk, three Chiffchaffs were calling and there were two male Greenfinches by the turning circle - so different to three greenies I had last week. 

The finch flock was mostly in flight and easily exceeded 250 birds, including at least 12 Lesser Redpolls and a handful of Reed Buntings (Yes I know - they're not finches).

We also had interesting bird overhead. We heard it from some way off giving a pipit/wagtail type call but loud and explosive. The calls were all single calls, well-spaced, apart from once where it gave a double 'duit-tcheck' type call, then continued south giving single 'duit' calls. I've had a listen to Xeno-canto this morning and the nearest match is Richard's Pipit - a species I've no recent (and no UK) experience of. Nothing to submit but interesting... When I hear it again, I'll know what it is .

Yesterday morning I tried a two-hour seawatch over the high tide (0950-1150), after a short spell of northerly winds it could be good (I thought). 

Gannets and Auks dominated, I estimated about 30-40/minute of each. The Auks were probably 90%+ Guillemot with the remainder Razorbills, no little'uns yet.

A typical sight for most of the morning, strings of Gannets headed north, some of them very close to the shore


Other highlights were:

Sooty Shearwater 2N

Velvet Scoter 2 Drakes N (together with a teal in tow)

Sandwich Tern 1N

Shag 2

Red-throated Diver 22 on the sea and 8N

Wigeon 13N

Purple Sandpiper 1N

Turnstone 5N

Slavonian Grebe 1 (with Scoter Flock)

Common Scoter 115 (c90 on the sea with 25 past)

Full list here

Gannets headed north  - I've had a go at ageing them below.

Gannets are long-lived birds with an average life-expectancy of 17 years, the oldest record Gannet was 37 year old. Gannets can be aged by their plumaged up to about their 6th year when they are 'adults'   -but it isn't always clear-cut.

Working from left to right:

Bird 1 - An adult (so more than five years old) - the secondaries are all white

Bird 2 - Probably 4th year - Quite a few black secondaries (like piano keys) and tail feathers

Bird 3 - Good contrast with Bird 2 - hardly any black secondaries so I would say 5th year

Bird 4 - All Dark with a lighter tailed band and some white 'sprinkles'  - Juvenile bird

Bird 5 - Many more black secondaries but with a yellowish head and more white on the neck and back - probably a 3rd year. 

Birds 6 and 7 are both juveniles

Saturday, 10 October 2020

A walk to the extremities

I set out to explore the less-frequented extremities of my patch today with a walk out to High Chibburn Farm, Low Chibburn Preceptory and the northern dunes. I included the farm and the Preceptory in the patch boundary for some variety but I rarely get out that far. Today I was in search of Collared Doves and Yellowhammers. I failed on both counts. 

Low Chibburn Preceptory
The right of way back to the Reserve

The farm is good for House Sparrows and the countryside around it can be good for Red-legged Partridge and today was no exception, otherwise I didn't see much. Walking back along the path to the hides, it was quite warm in the sunshine and out of the northerly wind and it brought out some late insects. 

Male Common Darter

Male Small Copper on Ragwort

Migrant Hawker

A single Whooper Swan was on the big pool and a Kestrel hunted along the road.

Kestrel hunting
The Kestrel successfully caught a small mammal and flew off into the bushes with it

In the weedy dunes there was a flock of at least 27 Reed Bunting - probably an undercount. I grilled them for any rarer buntings and the finch flock (about 120) didn't contain any Twite. Given that I walked 6km, I didn't come away with a huge list an the year list remains on 170.

One of the Reed Bunting flock

Male Blackcap in the Elder

Last night I had an hour grilling  the scoter flock for the potential Surf Scoter, no luck but there were 22 Red-throated Divers and a handful of Razorbills with the Scoters. 

Six Whooper Swans came in-off and another five went south and landed on the sea opposite the Drift Cafe. Here are a couple of arty-shots as the first six flew west. My first Whoopers of the Autumn

Whooper Swans headed west

Into the clouds...

Thursday, 8 October 2020

Heading for a record year?

 I could be heading for a record year on the patch...

Despite missing much of the spring due to COVID-19 restrictions  - effectively two months, I'm on track to break my year-list record total (birds) for the patch. Today's Greenfinches (an annual but increasingly scarce species) took my year-list to 170,  four behind my all-time best set in 2016 and matched in 2017. 

I put this down to home-working. Since mid-summer I've been on the patch virtually every morning before work, something I wouldn't have been able to do if I had to go into the office every day. This has meant I've picked up a lot of the passage birds only seen on vizmig - Crossbill, Grey Wagtail, Tree Pipit, Lapland Bunting and drift migrants like Spotted and Pied Flycatchers, Redstart and Treecreeper. It's also been a great year for seawatching.

With a fair-wind and a bit of luck I'm on target to at least match my best tally. I've got next week off work so should be able to spend more time on the patch and there are a few 'probables' to get - Yellowhammer, Little Auk, Fieldfare, Black-throated Diver, Merlin and Spotted Redshank as well as the chance of a scarcity or two. You know what they say...

Time in the field = birds.

A short walk this morning. The first quiet morning since the weekend, despite overnight rain. Three Chiffchaffs, four Blackcap, three Goldcrest and the highlight - three Greenfinches. 11 Skylark and five Redwing were notable overhead.

Blackcap

different Blackcap

Greenfinch

Woodpigeon gulping down Elderberries - leave some for the Barred Warbler please!