Sunday 31 May 2020

Trying to avoid the crowds

I was keen on a look around the patch today in the hope that these south-easterly winds might have brought in a red-backed shrike or a rosefinch but I knew, based on the last few days that Druridge would be swamped with people and be very unpleasant.

I spent the afternoon checking barn owl boxes nearby (they seem do be doing well by the way) and waited until after five o'clock to head for the patch.

When I arrived, I feared the worse. Cars parked in places I've never seen cars parked before between Cresswell and Druridge and at the entrance to the reserves, they weren't parked, they were abandoned. The folk who live at Druridge obviously fed up and had taken matters into their own hands with barrier tape and cones - who can blame them?

Once you got 200m beyond the entrance, not even as far as the Budge screen, the cars thinned out and beyond the blockhouse, hardly any. My theory is this;

the people we are seeing on the coast right now are not our usual visitors. These people have never been here before, they usually spend Saturday or Sunday in the pub or at the Metro Centre. They don't know there is another kilometre of roadside parking beyond the entrance so take just abandon their car wherever they can. They also presume, that it's okay to stack their rubbish (which they've taken the time to bag-up and carry as far as their car) by the already full bin because obviously someone from the council will be along soon to clear it away like they do on Northumberland Street in Newcastle. 

Why bins in rural areas don't work

Rant over.

I wandered the bushes and through the dunes checking any likely shrike bushes or rosefinch without joy. The Budge fields were literally drying up before my eyes.

The budge fields drying up before my eyes

From the end of one of net-rides, I looked out over the Budge fields, the light was crap, into the evening sunshine when a grey heron, oblivious to me, came in to land just beyond the fence. I fired a few shots off and I am pretty pleased with the result - not technically brilliant but I like the atmosphere of it. (And I love the out-of-focus lapwing behind it)

Coming in to land
I found plenty of meadow pipits and reed buntings in the dunes - I think the lock-down was good for them - shame it didn't last. A coupe of pairs of whitethroats and stonechats were also active.

Reed Bunting with hungry mouths to feed

One of several pairs of whitethroats

One of two singing male stonechats

The weather looks to change next week which hopefully might bring about a change in human and avian visitors to the patch?

Saturday 30 May 2020


Well, the COVID-19 restrictions were lifted a couple of weeks ago (not a wise move in my opinion). You would have thought I would have headed straight for the patch as soon as I could - but this wasn't the case. I was reluctant to go and waited a few days, until Monday 18th, before my first tentative visit.

When I did go, it felt odd - almost like I was doing something wrong. I've quite enjoyed exploring my new (very) local patch, rediscovering places I used to knock around as kid and probably first developed a love of the outdoors and wildlife, abandoning my re-found patch for Druridge felt like cheating. So after my first visit I returned to the local haunts for a few days.

Obviously there was a lot of new birds for the year - chiffchaff was the only warbler I saw before lockdown, now they are all back and the hirrundines, swifts and seabirds. 

I didn't take my camera on my first few visits - again it felt as if I should be exercising, not taking photos. I missed a lovely Greenland wheatear posing nicely on a post and a yellow wag on the budge fields. 

The Budge fields are looking great at the moment, but are drying up quickly in this dry weather (the driest May since the 50's seemingly) and have attracted a good selection of waders, on 19th I had greenshank, avocet, little stint, ruff, knot and black-tailed godwit. On Friday the wader list also included three curlew sandpiper, two little-ringed plover and a bar-tailed godwit. A drake garganey was also on the Budge fields.

I normally avoid Bank Holidays at Druridge. I headed out early on Bank Holiday Monday and left before the masses descended. A red-legged partridge, a scarce visitor to the patch, was on the Budge fields - I hope they remain scarce otherwise we'll lose our greys.

red-legged partridge - an unwelcome year-tick

30-40 swifts were feeding just over the bushes along with black-headed gulls, taking advantage of the St. Mark's Flies. 

Swifts - difficult to photograph

Black-headed gull -  hawking insects amongst the bushes

On Thursday and Friday I took two days off work to set up the ringing the site. I only put three nets up on each day but still caught 48 new birds, a few retraps and single control blue tit. We didn't ring at all last year because of family circumstances, so any retraps were at least two years old.

Warblers dominated, mostly adults showing signs of breeding but I did catch a recently fledged juvenile chiffchaff. A couple of grasshopper warblers and a lesser-whitethroat were nice to catch - the latter, a female with a brood patch, are not a common breeding species here. 

Lesser whitethroat  - a rare breeding species at Druridge

On Friday, a spoonbill was on the Budge fields first-thing and, weirdly, 22 barnacle geese. There had been lots of fly-over feral goose flocks, mostly Canadas. I can only presume these barnacles were feral rather than 'wild' migratory birds?

 A flock of greylags over - lots of flocks of feral geese passing through

When things were quieter in the nets, I had a chance between checks to photograph some critters. I found my first red and black froghopper at Druridge a couple of years ago - there were dozens of them on Thursday and Friday. A coloniser from the south, like speckled wood butterflies. 

Red and black froghopper- Cercopsis vulnerata

I also photographed this beetle:

Red-headed Cardinal Beetle (Pyrochroa serraticornis) 

Red-headed Cardinal Beetle (Pyrochroa serraticornis)  - a new one for me. It looks like another southern species establishing here. I saw three or four over the two days whilst checking nets. According to the NBN atlas the most northerly record St. Mary's Island and iNaturalist has couple of sightings locally but nothing as far north as Druridge. 

There were a few butterflies on the wing including large skipper and small heath. There were also dozens of blue-tailed damselfy.

Small Heath

Blue-tailed damselfly (female)

Blue-tailed damselfly

I left at about 1.30pm on Thursday and the road was jammed with cars - Friday was worse. I was using our southern nets so it was more obvious but as I drive home, it was gridlock - a single track road with cars parked on both sides and wazzocks not giving way. Cars were parked almost continuously from Druridge to Cresswell - I've not seen this before, even on August Bank Holiday Monday. I can only presume these people are usually in the Metro Centre or the pub...