Friday 28 August 2020

Seawatching and some thoughts on it.

With strong northerlies forecast overnight and early morning I suspected I might be seawatching today especially as I had the day off work. When I woke at 6am it was lashing it down with rain, I turned over and went back to sleep, If I'd had to go to work, I would've got up and gone anyway but I had the luxury of more time.

I eventually arrived at my dune watchpoint at 9am, it was too windy to stand on the dune ridge so I hunkered down in the dunes on a useful perch as I could be sometime.

The first bird I saw was a Bonxie, close in too. There wasn't a lot of action until pretty much the second notable bird I got onto was a skua,  a bit further out than the Bonxie, quite distant. A grey bird against the sea with a more languid tern-like flight - Juvenile Long-tailed Skua! My fifth of the year incredibly. 

It was steady after that, Manx Shearwaters coming through in little groups or singles and a few Sooty Shearwaters including a single group of six together about half-way out. There were a few distant Skuas that went unidentified - that's one of the problems with Druridge but a couple Arctic skuas were closer and one came into the bay to harass terns and a couple more Bonxies came through. A drake Velvet Scoter came in very close, north,  on its own and a group of ten Pale-Bellied Brent were also really close.

By 9.45am I was regretting not getting up earlier, the sky brightened and the sun even threatened to come out and the sea went 'silvery' - not good, anything more than half way out was unidentifiable. I was temped to pack up but visibility improved a bit as a cloud came over so I hung on. I was pleased that I did as the bird of the day, and one of my best seawatching experiences at Druridge happened soon after. 

A bird flew north, close-in and therefore low in my scope-view, so it passed through quickly, but it looked interesting and I tried tracking it through the troughs in the breakers, a shearwater, pale on the undersides but 'dumpy looking'. It was flying really slowly, moving back and forth, passing over and through the scoter flock, looking like it was feeding amongst them. It wasn't a Sooty, it had a pale belly anyway but the jizz was altogether wrong and it didn't have the contrast dark/white of a Manx and it just didn't look right.I was sure it was Balearic Shearwater. It landed among the Scoters briefly, before making a short flight and landing again, it did this three or four times, only landing for a few seconds before taking another short flight.These short flights gave good views when it wasn't in a trough and the dusky underwing, darker 'armpits' and dumpy appearance confirmed my initial ID. Eventually it moved off north, slowly again, feeding as it went. In hindsight I probably could have had a record shot of it, but I was too busy 'enjoying the bird'. This was my fifth Balearic at Druridge but by far the best views I've had of one here and my first since I saw two on 5th September 2013.

By 10:40, the light had really gone. I kept going until 11:05 to get the two-hours in and saw a few more birds including some Teal and a Golden Plover picked up on call just over the breakers, but it was high-tide. 

It was interesting to compare my figures with  headland watchpoints to the north and south of me. Obviously being in the middle of a bay I miss out on birds but I seem to miss out on some species more than others, Bonxies are a good example. I saw five in two hours today, Mark Eaton had 13 at Boulmer, Jack Bucknall had 13 (3 1/2 hours) at St. Mary's and Ben Steel had 19 in two and a half hours at Howick. 

I think powerful birds like Bonxies and to some degree Poms (I didn't see one today) don't drift into the Bay, they just take a straight line from Snab Point to Coquet Island so are too distant for me. I do better for Arctics than some headlands because the terns feeding in the bay draw them in and largely comparable for Long-tailed Skuas which seem to hug the coast more, or even curt off headlands (I've seen them do this at Church Point). Likewise, I do okay for Manx (and today for Balearic) shearwaters but struggle with the bigger Shears, with only one Cory's (in 2005) and no Great Shears ever. 

Despite the disadvantages of being in a bay, I'd swap a dozen of any of those species at Church Point for jut one on the patch. Above all, I love a good seawatch!

Highlights 09:05-11:05 (all N) (Full list here)

Pale-bellied Brent 12 (10N 2S)

Teal 56

Velvet Scoter 1 (drake)

Bonxie 5

Arctic Skua 4

Skua sp 6

Long-tailed Skua 1 (juv)

Golden Plover 1

Sooty Shearwater 11 

Manx Shearwater 24+

Balearic Shearwater 1

Two photos taken as I was packing up.

Adult Lesser Black-backed Gull

and juvenile

Wednesday 26 August 2020


The weather this week can best be described as 'unseasonable'. Monday dawned nicely with some sunshine (remember that?) but it didn't last and Tuesday was a complete write-off with torrential rain and gale force winds from the north, which of course at this time of year could produce some good seawatching. Today, the wind was still out of the north and it felt more like November than August. It had dropped a bit by this evening but was still cold.

I was lucky to catch the sunshine on Monday morning before it disappeared (for good?). The sun brought migrant birds and some locals to the sunny edge of the bushes and I counted 12 Willow Warblers and nine Whitehroats including some family parties, Wrens were  also obvious. By the turning-circle there were Reed Buntings, Stonechats, Linnets, Meadow Pipits, a Robin and a Dunnock.

Male Stonechat - all fluffed-up after a good preen

Young Goldfinch on the fence

In the dunes, there were still plenty of the weekends freshly-emerged butterflies. I wonder how many are still alive now? 

Red Admiral - maybe that Stonechat has taken a chunk out of its wing?

Small Tortoiseshell on Mugwort

Less common - a Small Copper

I walked back along the beach and already the clouds intimated what was in store. 

Looking north...

and south

Mondays list

After being stuck at my desk all day in video meetings, I headed out for a seawatch this evening, The wind had dropped and it looked like seabird activity had too going off others' reports from earlier in the day. It wasn't bad for a Druridge seawatch though - I've had worse! Some birds were quite distant. I got onto a Sooty Shearwater almost straight away, flying through the distant pot flags, it was followed by a small group of Manx Shearwaters and then a spoonless Pomarine Skua powered through on the same line as the Sooty.

Another highlight of the afternoon was groups of Brent Geese headed north. The ones I saw I against the sea were all Pale-bellied Brent, I presume the silhouetted birds against the sky were also this race - 67 in total. A couple of Arctic Skuas went north and one hung around to harry passing terns. There was quite a bit if tern activity, I gave up counting them but noted two Roseate amongst the numerous 'commics' and Sandwich terns. 

A nice sight was a bit of a fluke which I could've easily missed. I happened to glance up at the sky from my scope and saw three birds higher in the sky and they weren't gulls - I got the scope onto them, the first two were Bonxies and the third, just behind them was another Pomarine Skua  - an amazing sight to see these three powerful skuas flying together up the Bay. 

Just as I was about to leave, a summer-plumaged Great Northern Diver flew north close in. On the sea, the Scoter flock numbered about 110 and there were three Great-crested Grebes, an Eider and a Red-throated Diver with them.

Full list here

Sunday 23 August 2020

Little of note on WeBS count

The birds of note on the WeBS count this morning were both little - firstly Little Stint which was among the Dunlin flock, my second of the year on the patch after seeing a bird in the spring. There was also single Little Gull, a second calendar year bird in front of the little hide. Otherwise it was pretty quiet, a handful of Dunlin and five Black-tailed Godwits on the Budge fields with the Stint and no sign of the Black-necked Grebe that had been on Druridge Pool earlier in the week. 

Walking between the hides, the bushes seemed very quiet too, I suspect they will remain that way until we get a bit of east in the wind. 

Saturday 22 August 2020

An emergence of butterflies

This morning it was breezy from the south west with sunny spells, I had a walk to the north end of the patch, through the dunes north of the turning circle. The first bit north of the Dunbar burn is owned by the National Trust and the next area is owned by the local farmer. Both areas are grazed with the one to the north grazed much more heavily than the National Trust bit, basically cows are overwintered and supplementary fed on silage. This isn't ideal for dune flora as the feeding and dung enriches the dunes, but, for wintering birds, these dunes are a real mecca. The resultant plants, Mugwort, Fat Hen, Houndstooth and Redshank provide a huge seed resource for finches, buntings and tree sparrows. Additional arable weed seeds brought in with the silage supplement what grows. 

The purist ecologist in me should be horrified, but diversity is everything and these 'wrecked' dunes play an important part in keeping these passerines fed when there is nothing in the surrounding farmland and that is why there are a hundred or so Twite here every winter.

The weedy dunes with mugwort, redshank and fat hen

The birds numbers are already starting to pick up here with 30 Linnet, ten or more Reed Bunting, family parties of Stonechat, Whitethroat and Grey Partridge noted this morning. A single Sedge Warbler was certainly a migrant.

Male Reed Bunting in the Fat Hen

Reed Bunting - This is the best Reed Bunting photo I have ever taken 

A young Stonechat - one of a family part that included three juveniles

He got his eye on this fly - still learning to feed I reckon

The highlight this morning wasn't the birds but the butterflies. As I walked through the dunes, Small Tortoiseshells lifted from everywhere I walked, they all looked really fresh so must have recently emerged, I reckon I saw at least 150 of them in those two areas of dunes alone. Red Admirals, also freshly emerged, were also conspicuous with at least 40 counted. A couple of Meadow Browns and Small Coppers were looking less fresh. 

One of over 150 Small Tortoisehells
Red Admiral - one of about 40-50

I presume this is a local emergence but down on the beach, Small Tortoiseshells were flitting by me from headed inland from the sea.

Onto the beach - it looked wet away to the north

A passing Herring Gull

There was nothing much of note on the sea and the Budge fields were quiet, save for a group of Dunlin and Ringed Plovers. It was too windy for macro photography and I managed one hover with the small camera. 

Hoverfly Helophilus pendulus

This was growing in the one of the cattle feeding areas - It is a Coprinus (Ink Cap family) - I think possibly Coprinopsis narcotica which likes dunged areas.

Thursday 20 August 2020

Early warblers and a late skua

With a band of rain passing through overnight and a brisk south-easterly I thought that this morning had potential for a few migrant passerines to be dropped in and I was partially right. So an early-ish start was required and I was down on the patch just before the sun came over dunes. It started quietly, I checked the plantation and the bushes around the entrance and their was little life - three Swifts flew south, could they be the last of the year? There was a strong southerly movement of Barn Swallows too.

I wandered up the road and when the sun hit the bushes, things livened up. The sheltered spot by the path the path to the hides was alive with warbler, mostly Willow Warblers with the odd Chiffhcaff and Whitethroat. These weren't all local birds although some were as the adult feeding two freshly-fledged young proved.  A few of the Willow Warblers were attempting a song, as was a Chiffchaff or two, I fancy these are males of the year, testing out their singing abilities.

A moulting chiffchaff

Willow Warbler

male Goldfinch

I estimated 52 Willow and about 20 Chiffchaff and a few Whitethroat and Blackcap - no Sedge again though. A lot of warblers but no scarcities. A Grey Wagtail flew south, a scarce patch bird normally only seen on viz-mig in the autumn. On the Budge fields, there were two Ruff still and a handful of Dunlin and Redshank. These two Mute Swans made a splash-landing scattering the waders. 

Splash landing

I popped back to the patch this evening, the light was awful for the Budge fields so, as the wind had swung easterly again, I had a look on the sea. It was fairly quiet to sea until I picked up an Arctic Skua, way out, it came closer until it was just over the beach, harrying a group of Sandwich Terns and allowing a few pics.

Spot the odd-one-out

Despite a few folk being around there were 45 Sanderling and 18 Ringed Plover on the beach. 

Wednesday 19 August 2020


A quick post-work visit to the patch this evening to catch up with Black-necked Grebe that had been reported on Druridge Pool earlier in the day. Black-necked Grebe is a tricky bird to see on the patch and this was my first since a summer-plumaged bird in May 2018. No chance of any photos as the bird kept a distance from the shore. A Pochard was another scarcity.

The recent rain has re-wetted the Budge fields and this had attracted a decent smattering of waders including three Knot, two Ruff, a single Turnstone (rare on the Budge), Little Ringed Plover, Black-tailed Godwit, three Ringed Plovers and a few Dunlin and Redshank. A single first-summer Little Gull was in front of the little hide. 

The wind has strengthened out of the south-east and it's raining. Could be good in the morning...

Sunday 16 August 2020

This week it has been mostly foggy

It's felt more like October than August this week, the cloud, got or mizzle has hardly lifted and neither has the temperature. Sadly, despite the murk and the wind having easterly in it, we didn't have the birds of October. 

It's been mostly misty this week - keeps the crowds away though

I've been down to the patch most days this week, some seawatching, looking for migrants, a bit of ringing and culminating in two 3 hour seawatches today.

I had a bit of lie-in this morning, but when I got up the Whatsapp group had news of Long-tailed Skuas heading north along the coast. About time there was some good seawatching as it's been a damp squib so far this week. I headed for the patch, arriving just after 9am. More messages of Long-tailed Skuas  - failed to connect with any of them, had they gone too far out for me? Lots of Manx Shearwaters, a single Bonxie and Arctic Skua and then at 10:40 a closer Skua, almost coming out of the Bay rather than heading north, a Pomarine Skua, no 'spoons' but a superb bird and close, it headed out into the bay.

I called it a day at 11.30 and headed home for coffee, worried I had missed the Long-tails but happy with my Pom. In the dunes I came across my first Wheatear of the autumn, a moulting juvenile.

Juvenile Wheatear

After lunch I was about to head for the allotment when Dave Dack kindly called me to tell me that more Long-tailed Skuas were heading north. I re-parked the wheelbarrow and jumped in the car and back to the dunes. Another report of five!! yes five Long-tailed Skuas past Snab Point - I didn't see them. I was about to hoy me scope into the sea and take up metal detecting. Then at 4pm I got onto a skua heading north, more bouncy and tern like in flight, it was looking good as it came north, about 2/3rds of the way out. As it drew level with me ID was clinched - Long-tailed Skua, the steely grey of the bird against the sea tied in with the jizz as it flew past, it didn't get very far before landing on the sea off Chibburn Links. After that another L-T Skua was reported with two Arctics from Newbiggin. 24 minutes later I got onto three terns - they were distant mind. It was good to compare 'jizz' though  - the first bird much more buoyant and 'aerobatic' than the two that followed, the cold-steely grey could be picked up at that distance -honest!

Two more Long-tails were reported past Newbiggin Church Point at 17.15. Thirteen minutes later I was watching them, closer than the previous skuas, amongst the pot flags this time. Amazing  - four Long-tailed Skuas. 

At 17.34 a Pomarine Skua went north at Church Point and amazingly exactly ten minutes later I picked it up, powering north. It got here quicker than the Long-tails and Arctics which is surprising when you watch them fly!

Manx Shearwater passage was heavier in the morning than the afternoon and even Gannets were thinner on the ground after lunch. A couple more Bonxies came through and an Arctic Skua was 'resident' in the Bay, harrying terns. 

Black-headed Gull headed north

Six hours well spent!

On Monday my walk produced a flock of 14 Goosander headed north and a pair of juvenile Buzzards over the dunes and perched in the bushes. This Grasshopper Warbler was by the Dunbar Burn.

Grasshopper Warbler skulking as they do

Goosanders headed north

I tried a ringing session on Tuesday morning before work but it was very quiet, I only caught 14 birds and 5 of them were retraps. It was almost as if the resident warblers had mostly cleared out, leaving a few willow warblers behind. Wednesday was very quiet too so I walked back by the beach and saw my first Turnstone of the year when three flew north and Whimbrel called overhead. 

Carrion Crow on the beach
One of 14 Cormorants over
Juvenile Blue Tit in the dune bushes

Seawatching on Friday evening produced a single Sooty Shearwater among a handful of Manx. About 250-300 Common Scoter are hanging around offshore with a few guillemots and couple of  Great-crested Grebes in amongst them. 

The week definitely ended on a high. It looks like the northerly will switch south on Tuesday, I hope we get another one before the winter. 

The easterly winds have deposited huge numbers of Jellyfish on the beach. This is a Lion's Mane Jelly

Friday 7 August 2020

Ringing related

Janet and I set some nets up at Druridge this morning to catch and ring birds. An early start at this time of year is required as the birds tend to go quieter mid morning when it warms up. It was already T shirt temperatures at 5am!

We caught steadily until 10am when it tailed off and we were packed up shortly after 11. We caught 46 'new birds', re-trapped eight birds and controlled one bird. 

We mostly caught warblers and they were mostly this years young and were mostly Willow Warblers. The first bird that we caught was a juvenile Lesser Whitethroat, I caught a female with a brood patch back in June so I presume this juvenile was one of hers. Willow Warblers were still singing and that was reflected in the fact that we caught 14 in total including this bird which was already ringed but with a French ring. It was an adult, but really fresh having almost completed its main moult. We'll wait with interest to hear back from the French ringing scheme.

French-ringed Willow Warbler

 Interestingly we didn't catch any Sedge Warblers but they are still around. A single Reed Warbler was carrying a lot of fat indicating it was on migration.  We caught a few of Robins and Wrens which we were sure were all local birds.  A sign that autumn is here was a Redstart - a lovely adult male that was just completing his main moult. 

Male Redstart
Male Restart showing tail

A Cuckoo was seen in flight when I arrived and  I noted a lot of Swifts heading south at first light.   

We've heard back from BTO recently with some news of birds ringed or re-trapped elsewhere. A Whitethroat and Reed Warbler that I ringed at Druridge were later caught at by Ian Fisher at East Chevington and I caught one of 'his' Blue Tits. More interesting was a Reed Warbler that I caught on 9th June that had been ringed at Titchfield Haven Nature Reserve in August last year, it was ringed as an adult  so had already crossed the Sahara at least four times by the time I caught it at Druridge. 

I've had a walk on the patch every morning this week. Willow warblers have been evident all week and I am sure some of these are passage birds. yesterday, particularly, was good for butterflies with eleven species noted before 9am!

Looking south on Thursday morning

And North - zoom in and you will see the flying ant swarm

Fly-by adult Magpie in 'main moult'
Juvenile Stonechat on the Coal Road

Small White butterfly
Small Copper butterfly

Wednesday 5 August 2020

Tick and Run

Much to my own disgust - I ticked and ran today...

John Todd found a White-rumped Sandpiper on the Budge fields mid-morning, I was at work but between meetings and I knew that I would be working through my lunchbreak anyway, so I was sharp on the scene. Toddy had reported it from the Little hide so I went there first, it had flown with the Dunlin towards the Budge Hide, so I headed for it and was soon watching it, a nicely marked individual, among the Dunlin. I couldn't give it long though as I had to be back home for another 'virtual' meeting. I was doing the right thing really, to enable social distancing and more people to see the bird. A great find by Toddy and my third for the patch. Previous birds have all been in early August - 12th in 2017 and 11th in 2018.

Janet and I went back this evening for a better look. 

I was on the patch this morning for a walk this morning, I did see the Dunlin flock but only had my bins so wouldn't have picked out the White-rumped if it was there. . The last two mornings have been a bit 'soft' little wind, overcast with a dampness about them.
'Soft' morning
Soft Morning

Warblers were evident again today with Willow Warbler being far and away the most numerous. There were four or five singing birds and lots of adults and juveniles feeding on the edge of the bushes.

One of many Willow Warblers

Two Little Egrets flew south but little else of note. 

Reed Bunting in Fat Hen

Fly-by Lesser Black-backed Gull


Mushrooms - yet to be identified