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.