Monday 29 November 2021

The calm after the storm

Storm Arwen well and truly lashed the Northumberland coast on Friday night into Saturday morning. A northerly wind reaching nearly 160 kph came from beyond Svalbard, straight down the North Sea to hit us square-on. 

In theory, seawatching was on the cards for Saturday as winds eased. Instead we awoke to devastation. Trees blocking roads and various bits of neighbours houses in our garden. It was still very windy, very cold and and occasionally snowy or windy. I didn't fancy a session at Snab Point, especially after spending the morning helping our neighbour with his shed roof.

The assumed influx of little auks didn't really happen so when Sunday morning dawned bright and calm we headed for the patch to check out the destruction. The bushes were virtually unscathed, years of coppicing leaving less prone to being blown over. The Oddie hide however wasn't so lucky.

We have lift-off! Open-top bird hide

Room with a view

The roof had come off in a single piece and was lying nearly 50m away in the Budge fields. Impressive!

Not good.

Not related, this mute swan wasn't lucky either. I can't be sure the storm did for it or Avian Influenza which is prevalent at the moment.

Not so lucky

It was ringed and Andy Rickeard soon got back to us with the details. It was ringed a cygnet at Testo's Roundabout on the A19 (unusual swan habitat) in July 2016 and has been a regular at QEII Country Park since 2017. 


We didn't see much else at Druridge, a winter skylark was noteworthy, so we headed home for lunch.

wind-sculpted sand dunes

No sooner were we back when news broke of a potentially twitchable Brünnich's guillemot being tracked up the coast. With no time to get Newbiggin, we headed for Snab. 

I hadn't set my scope for long, when I got onto a bird heading north that looked the biz. I alerted Janet to it  - it looked very 'black and white' with a black head but it was the shape and jizz that made it stand out (it travelled on its own), it was dumpy, almost barrel shaped, it looked really white with more white on the flanks than a common guille (or maybe there was just more flanks with it appearing so deep chested).The underwings where strikingly white and it showed a white 'armpit' as the wings whirred around. I was surprised that it had arrived as quickly and hadn't been reported from Newbiggin, I checked my phone to see that it had been seen at Newbiggin, five minutes before we saw picked it up off Snab. 

We watched it into the bay as it headed towards Coquet Island - it was motoring. It was quite distinctive compared to the guillemots and razorbills that followed. It's dumpy shape (described by one of the Newbiggin seawatchers as looking like a 'rugby ball'). What a bird! I've seen them in Iceland and Arctic Norway on the breeding grounds but it was brilliant to see one on home turf. 

We stayed for 45 minutes and added a couple of little auks, two great northern and a handful red-throats to the list. It was odd seeing shelducks on a seawatch, we counted seven. We then had to go to Chibburn to look at an injured barn owl reported by the farmer. 

It's been an odd week for weather, last weekend was cold and wintery but by midweek we watching many wasps on hoverflies feeding on ivy. Hoverflies in late November aren't common.

Eristlalis sp - probably E. pertinax on Ivy

moody-skies at Druridge last weekend

Sunday 14 November 2021

I am the Walrus!

The plan this morning was to put some low nets up in the dunes to the north of the turning circle to catch and ring twite. Light rain at first light literally put a dampener on that. Plan B was to go out for a wander somewhere when news broke via the local grapevine of a Walrus at Seahouses. It wasn't April 1st. Andy Douglas posted pics of a young walrus on the rocks in Seahouses harbour.

We were soon on our way.

Arriving in the harbour,  a small crowd had gathered and more looked on from above. We could see thw walrus from the car as we drove along the harbour, a brown hulk on top of the rocks. We parked-up and walked along the harbour for better views - and we got them!




Seemingly this Walrus has recently been in the Netherlands and Germany, a young female who now goes by the name of Freya... This was confirmed by a mark on her flipper. Presumably she came overnight at high tide. This is the first record for northeast England.

We watched her for an hour or so, she didn't move much, just occasionally looking up when a boat went by. At one point it looked as though she was purposefully shielding her eyes from the sun. 

too bright to sleep

Walrus - a first for me, but I would never have predicted one in Seahouses Harbour mind. More like one of David Steel's legendary April Fools gags than reality. 

The Eiders drakes were already displaying to the ducks 'ahuuu'

Very smart drake Eider

We headed to Bamburgh for seafood and and then a look off Stag Rocks where a Back Guillemot was showing well just offshore. We didn't see the long-staying Bonaparte's gull which was seen again later in the day.

It's been quiet on the patch. 80 Twite in the dunes was the highlight of yesterday's walk and last weekend we saw four snow bunting on the beach. Days are short now, so birding either side of work is difficult. 

Tuesday 19 October 2021

Thrushes, Little Gulls and Waxcaps

 I was sat at my desk, in my loft-office at home, yesterday afternoon, the velux windows were open as it was mild and by 4pm I could hear redwings over the house, seeeeep, seeeep.

I popped my head out to see a flock of 80 flying just over our rooftop and then another 40 or so. I tried to work but by 4.30 I could concentrate no more and headed for the patch. When I arrived, redwings were coming over but quite high.  I thought I would check the plantation and entrance bushes first for grounded migrants until I read a Whatsapp message from Shaun Robson - 81 little gull off Druridge Links. Surely a typo?

I asked him to confirm and he replied to say 'yes' he had counted 81 little gulls offshore. I headed for the Dune. Shaun and I must've passed as he wasn't there when I arrived (he'd gone to Cresswell) but the little gulls were still there, well at least 50-60 of them, it was hard to keep track as some moved off south, some loafed on the sea whilst others fed. I would guess that 95% were adults. Easily a patch record count for this species.

The thrushes kept coming but in smaller numbers, I was watching them coming ashore from a long way out, mostly redwings with a few blackbirds. At least four brambling also came in-off.  No fieldfares yet. A great northern diver was on the sea. 

I stayed until dark, by which time, thrush movement had stopped, but another brambling came over. As darkness fell, unknown numbers of pink-footed geese arrived on Budge fields.

I love to see this visible migration of winter thrushes arriving over the sea and always find it amazing that after such a long and perilous journey, that they don't make landfall at the first opportunity. I tracked a small group which just kept going towards Widdrington and probably beyond.

No visits to the patch today but yesterdays arrival was still evident in the Goswick and Beal areas with many grounded thrushes, bramblings and robins and a few reed buntings which I presume are incoming birds too?

There are a few waxcaps in the dunes, by the side of the paths, which I think are 'dune waxcap' -  Hygrocybe conicoides

Dune waxcap?

Sunday 17 October 2021

Tystie, tystie, very, very tystie

Twists of fate led to a full-fat patch tick on Friday.

Firstly - I wouldn't have normally been at Druridge on a Friday lunchtime. I'd have been at work. A good friend from Malta, Justin Vassallo, was visiting so I took the day off to take him birding. Justin is a legend - he started the first Maltese Raptor Camps in 1999, when he was only 19. I met him in 2001 when I went to my first of four raptor camps. We've been friends ever since. 

Secondly - We'd spent the first part of the morning seawatching at Snab Point so wouldn't have ordinarily gone back to look at the sea. We were in the little hide at Druridge when a couple of visiting birders told us they had seen two great northern divers with a single red-throated offshore - A chap had put them onto them. We retrieved the scopes from the car and headed up there. The 'finder' wandered off when we arrived. No sign of the GNDs but there was enough to look at so we stayed a while.

And that's how I happened to be in the right place at the right time.

We counted at least 20 red-throats on the sea, 160 common scoters, large auks, red-breasted mergansers, three scaup, great crested grebes. All good stuff for a Maltese birder. After 30 minutes or so of scanning, I picked up an auk headed north, already north of us - big white wing patches stood out immediately on an otherwise black and white 'motley' auk. Justin was looking south when I called it  - Black Guillemot! Despite my best efforts I couldn't get him onto it before it disappeared into a trough and was lost to sight. Given the scaly-dusky-ness of the bird I think it was a first-winter rather than a winter adult. 

I suppose 'tystie' is overdue as a patch bird and I shouldn't have been unexpected but it certainly wasn't on my radar for Friday - given reports from elsewhere, great shearwater or white-billed diver would've been more likely. So,  a pleasant surprise. Tystie takes my patch list to 253 and the patch list to 272.

We retired to the Drift Café for lunch and a celebratory beer.
Justin and me - celebrating a few lifers for him and a patch tick for me with a bottle of Curlew Return each

Elsewhere on the patch, late common darter and migrant hawker dragonflies were on the wing and three mistle thrushes were around the farm. Four barnacle geese were new for the autumn.

One of many common darters

Mistle thrush - not common on the patch

After the excitement of Friday, Saturday was a bit more mundane. 

It was a grey day, no wind, just flat... as was the birding. I decided to have a look on the sea. The sea was flat too. There was steady, northerly, kittiwake passage and three little gulls lingered offshore. A single female scaup came in with a red-breasted merganser and two turnstone flew north. 35 red-throated divers were on the sea, eight flew north and one went south.  

Coal tit in the plantation on Saturday

Today, Janet and I walked north from the plantation and back by the beach. The bushes were VERY quiet. The three mistle thrushes were still about. On the beach, a single rock pipit feeding on the seaweed north of the Dunbar Burn was a year-tick. Rock pipits are tricky at Druridge so it was welcome. 

Rock pipit

Carrion Crow on the beach

Razorbill - still a few auks feeding close inshore

Ringed plovers from last week

A sizeable (250+) flock of finches roamed about the dunes, I think 85-90% of them were linnets. No twite yet. 

Sunday 10 October 2021

Autumn hasn't really got going

It's been a month since my last blog.

In my defence,  I have been on holiday. We had ten days away in late September to Lincolnshire, Norfolk  and Suffolk. We finally managed to connect with the black-browed albatross at Bempton on our way south and called in for the long-staying White-tailed Lapwing at Blacktoft. 

Black-browed Albatross at Bempton

White-tailed Lapwing at Blacktoft

Norfolk and Suffolk were quiet bird-wise. It's great to see hobby everyday and great egrets are everywhere (both still description species in Northumberland). As the birding was so quiet, we concentrated more on invertebrates. The wonderful Suffolk Wildlife Trust Reserve - Carlton Marshes, didn't disappoint. We saw fen raft spider and three species of Bush Cricket there.

Roesel's Bush-Cricket
Short-winged conehead

We also watched a little egret catching migrant hawker dragonflies on the wing- who'd have thought that 20 years ago.

Little egret hunting dragonflies

At Waxham, we went to successfully twitch vagrant emperor dragonflies and also saw wasp spider - bonus! I like Suffolk. There's lots of interesting things that we don't see up here (yet). 

Wasp spider

Back on the patch it's been quiet though. With the wind mostly from the west, there's been no falls of birds and common passage migrants have been absent. My chances of redstart, pied or spotted flycatchers or garden warbler are now very slim. With the forecast saying westerlies for at least another week, a vagrant American bird could be more likely than a yellow-browed warbler. Speaking of which, yesterday, I went to twitch the red-eyed vireo on Holy Island - a new world-bird for me.

Since coming back from holiday I've added pectoral sandpiper (28th Sept), greenfinch (4th October) and a brambling to my patch list (yesterday - a fly over in-off) which takes me to 160 for the year.

Wednesday 8 September 2021

Back to VizMigging

The wind moved into the west which brought an end to exciting seawatches. It's since turned south-s'easterly which can be good for VizMigging  -visible migration - which for me means observing and counting birds on their autumn migration from a single vantage point. I'm normally in Tarifa at this time for the most spectacular VizMig in western Europe, it wasn't to be this year...

Instead, my vantage point was the 'big dune' at Druridge this morning. No flocks of Honey Buzzards, Short-toed Eagles or White Storks but a great vantage point at the innermost part of the bay which funnels coasting birds in to one point. I only had an hour or so before work from 7.30am to 8.30am. The wind was light and the skies were clear.

Typical view of a passing Meadow Pipit

Meadow Pipits and Swallows were piling through as I arrived and continued to do so. House and Sand Martins came through in lower numbers with only a few Skylarks and Pied/White Wagtails. A few waders included 2 Ruff, Greenshank, Black-tailed Godwit and four Snipe. 

The final tally for one hour was:

Barn Swallow - 557

Meadow Pipit - 288

House Martin - 36

Sand Martin - 14

Skylark - 4

Pied/White Wagtail - 2

The last couple of evenings have been warm, sunny and calm and I've had a couple of brief looks on the sea. Yesterday I photographed a wader coming in-off, it flew over my head as I photographed (I nearly went-over backwards) and had me stumped at first. Any guesses what it is?

Out of context wader

The Scoter flock numbers around 350 but is always changing, last night there were two Great-crested Grebes with them, tonight two Tufted Duck. The flock is constantly changing and requires regular scrutiny if a 'Surfy' is to be found. 

Tonight I had two treats, an aerial battle between an Arctic Skua and a young Sandwich Tern and a beautiful sunset. An adult and juvenile Roseate tern were nice as it won't be long until they're gone. 

Let battle commence
Off they go

Sunset, that's the Simonside Hills behind the turbines. 

Thursday 2 September 2021

Still seawatching

Last week I was mostly seawatching. Well, since then, the wind has remained out of the north and I've continued to be 'mostly seawatching'.

I've had two sessions on the patch and two trips to Snab Point for rarer species, just to give myself a better chance of seeing them. 

On Tuesday evening I had a two-hour seawatch from the dunes at Druridge. It started quietly so I decided to count 'everything' - I don't normally do this, because, when you're counting a long string of Gannets, you might just miss a skua or shearwater slipping through. Anyhoo, I did count the Gannets - 977 in two hours, give or take. That's about 500/hour on average. 

Other highlights from Tuesday evening included:

Pale-bellied Brent - 7
Bonxie - 2
Arctic Skua - 1
Roseate Tern - 1
Sooty Shearwater - 2
Manx - 8
and a Grey Heron  - not a common sight on a seawatch.

On Wednesday afternoon, a Fea's type Pterodroma petrel was tracked north up the East Coast. It was due at Newbiggin after 5pm, but I was cutting it fine, leaving the office at ten-to, I headed for Snab Point. I hadn't even got my scope set up when news came through from Church Point. Six minutes later I picked it up about 2/3rds out turning and towering, I got a fella, Dave, who was also there onto it and we watched it for the full three-four minutes it took to pass us and head north into the Bay. Despite the distance, the light was fabulous and the dark 'V' from the wings to the back could be made out as it banked and turned. What a bird! Much better views than the one I saw from Druridge a few years ago. 

This morning, Janet and I were back at Snab Point before work. A juvenile Sabine's Gull had been tracked up the coast. Shortly after being reported at Newbiggin we got onto it, straight out, above the horizon. It was really obvious compared to the Kitti's we'd been watching coming through. A bit of a 'tick and run' - we headed back to work.

This evening I headed back to my dune perch, with a new bit of kit. A foldable camping seat. This one just has a back and base, no legs, so ideal if there is a dune to sit on. I've been standing recently but it's hard work standing for three hours, let alone six or seven. 

It started quiet. There weren't even many Gannets. 

About forty minutes in I picked up a pale-phase Skua to the south, about half way out, the flight was slow and buoyant and I fancied it was a Long-tailed Skua. As it came closer my suspicions were right, a beautiful dusky-grey and white adult long-tailed skua, drew level with me and continued north. What a bird!

It picked up after that, with a couple of Bonxies and Arctic Skuas, and then a group of five Arctic Skuas together at half-five, close-in. Two adult Pomarine Skuas had been tracked north and they promptly came through just before half-six. Nice pale birds complete with spoons. Three little gulls, more Arctic Skuas and four Purple Sandpipers went through.

It had turned into a canny seawatch. I was thinking of going home to make tea when a juvenile Sabine's Gull appeared in the bottom of my scope, filling it. It was close in!

Now this is where my new seat was my undoing...

The Sabine's was in my scope, it landed on the sea, I panicked looking for my phone to try and video it (as it was that close). The phone had fallen onto the sand, as I reached from my new seat for it, it shifted, so did I, and the scope went over. I set it back up but couldn't find the bird.  If I'd been standing up, as I have been for the last year or more, this wouldn't have happened. Frantic scanning of the sea where it was last seen and then, back on my feet with the scope set up properly, a prolonged scan yielded nothing. Gone! F'ing seat!

Two more tracked 'Poms' came through at 19:18 - both adults with spoons and four Little Gulls were on the sea, two adults and two juvs.  

During a quiet spell tonight, I contemplated the pros and cons of modern communications that allow birds to be tracked up the coast. This morning, when the Sabine's Gull was at Tynemouth, I knew I had time for a bowl of Muesli before heading for Snab Point. You can now twitch seabirds. Whilst this undoubtedly means that more people get to see rare seabirds, it does take some of the fun out seawatching. Even though my views of the Sabine's gull at Druridge were brief this evening, before falling off my new seat, I still enjoyed that experience more than the tracked bird at Snab Point this morning which gave prolonged views. 

Tracked birds still need to be found by someone. I love seawatching and still put the hours in when nothing is being seen. It doesn't work if everyone sits at home waiting for Whatsapp to ping. Long-tailed Skuas are my favourite skua (by far) so finding an adult tonight was a real treat, it wouldn't have been the same if I knew it was coming like I did with the Poms. As I said... Pros and cons.

Here's some gulls...

Juvenile Great Black-backed Gull

Adult Common Gull

Adult Great Black-backed Gull

Monday 30 August 2021

Mostly Seawatching

 This week I've mostly been seawatching.

With the wind switching to the north for most of the week, I've been seawatching at every opportunity, I've even abandoned Druridge for Snab Point a couple of times for rarer species.

It all started last Sunday, I had an evening seawatch, the wind was NE but light but it was a good start.

Arctic Skua 2

Bonxie 2

Little Gull 1

Roseate Tern 3

Sooty Shearwater 1

Manx Shearwater 11

Two Velvet scoter with 460 Common.

Young Gannet

On Tuesday evening the seawatching was quiet but the light was amazing and it was nice to just watch the common species. A juvenile Black Tern going north was a nice year-tick.

Oystercatchers in evening sunlight - a mix of adults and juveniles.

Curlew in silhouette

On Thursday another evening seawatch was more productive. 12 Manx and four Sooty Shearwaters, a Great Norther Diver in summer plumage, four Roseate Terns and four Bonxies.

On Friday evening, the wind had dropped but was still NE and it was overcast. 18 Pale-bellied Brent Geese headed north were my first of the year on the patch. Seemingly the same group were in Norfolk the previous day. 

Northbound - Pale-bellied Brents

A few Sooty and Manx Shearwaters, five Bonxies and two Arctic Skua, as I was about to head home when I got onto a distant shearwater. On jizz, before side-on views,  I thought 'Balearic' - the flight was too languid for Manx. It was distant and and the already poor light was fading fast (19:20) - it probably was Balearic but I wouldn't want to claim it.


On Sunday morning reports came through of a Balearic Shearwater headed north past Whitburn. I decided, rather than risk not seeing it at Druridge I would go to Snab Point, still inside my 5km Patch. News came from Newbiggin that the bird had gone past Church Point, we waited, and waited. 40 minutes passed, two angling boats that had been offshore motored north, Ashington Gary suggested the shearwater might be behind them, I scanned wit the scope and there it was, some way departing boats. It was distant but gave good views, showing a 'dark' armpit, but not a very dark 'smudgy mark'  - jizz was more Balearic than Manx but it looked different. 

Photos and videos taken at Whitburn show this bird to be atypical for Balearic and it certainly looks like many photos of Yelkouan Shearwater. One for the experts...

An amazing number of Med Gulls, at least 75, were on the beach in Lynemouth Bay. A Greenshank on the beach there was nice. I like Snab Point, it's nice to see some rocky shore species. 

One of the Meds

The wind was still out of the north this morning, it was cold and raining when I arrived on the patch. I headed for the Budge hide rather than the dunes. The Spoonbill was still there but little else so I braved a seawatch. 

The showers kept coming, they were light, but squally, and the visibility was awful. Two Pale-bellied Brent went through, followed by ten more and a single bonxie. Another squally shower, and from inside the bay, through the murk, a shearwater came through, again I thought Balearic, again, because of the poor light, not enough to clinch it. I was more certain of this closer bird than Friday's mega distant bird. A single Manx followed it shortly afterwards and I was more certain the first bird was a Balearic but I'll not be submitting it. Another shower loomed so I gave up and went home.

I was back out at Snab Point later for another north-bound Balearic that didn't make it much beyond Newbiggin, where it stopped for lunch. I did the same.

One of the resident Fulmars at Snab - much closer than the passage birds

Juvenile Arctic Skua

Same bird as above

Sunday 15 August 2021

Viz Mig - it's just a hobby!

Firstly, apologies for the lack of blog updates. There just aren't enough hours in the day and when it is still light in the evenings I would rather be out birding than sorting photos or writing blog posts, especially as most of my time these days is spent in front of the computer in my office.

Since my last post we had a holiday to Wales - a week in the Llyn AONB with an excursion to Anglesey for the Elegant Tern at Cemlyn Bay and two new damselflies. All in all, a great trip!

Back to Druridge, I've managed a few visits before and after work and the patch year-list is now on 146, a couple of decent seawatches and a few early migrants, like Cuckoo and Green Sandpiper, have pushed it up in July.

Common Tern feeding offshore in 'Golden Hour' light in July

Barn Owl - un-ringed second year female

Back to the here and now, on Friday I took a day off work and spent the morning on the patch. I did a bit of viz-migging from the high dune, it was reasonably quiet but I did scope the Little Owl at the preceptory. I had a wander down to the hides with the macro camera to look for bugs and beasts, where, bizarrely,  I bumped into a chap from Oxford whom I'd met at Icklesham back in 2011, where I'd spent a week ringing with him as a trainee. As we were chatting a small falcon flew fast, over the bund, spooked by seeing us, it banked around over the Budge fields and headed off in the direction from which it had come - Hobby! An adult. My first on the patch since 2015.

I scrambled up the bank to look out over the big pool but I had gone. Shortly after I was sat in the little hide with a chap called Harry and we saw the same bird come back over the Budge fields before again heading our over the big pool. I think it must've been hunting hunting dragonflies. Both views were brief but the grey upperparts, lighter plain tail, paler underparts and heavily streaked under-carriage with reddish buff 'trousers' all visible, but it was it's jizz that made us all call hobby before detail as noted. 

Common Field Grasshopper - pink form

New for the patch - Denticulate Leatherbug (Coriomeris denticulatus)

Comma Butterfly - not common on the patch

Roe Buck headed south across the Budge Fields

Yesterday, on arriving at the patch, just before 8am, I saw a few Swifts overhead, Janet sent me a message to say she had seen Swifts moving over the marina in Amble. Another viz-mig session I thought... The wind was stronger from west, which is good for viz-mig at Druridge as birds are 'pinched-in' to the middle of the bay, but also tough-going so I chose a lower spot, rather than the big dune.

Swift passage continued and by 9am I'd counted 109 going south with strong passage of hirrundines, mostly House Martins. This continued until after 10 am when it seemed to ease, in total I counted 245 Swifts south in two and a half hours.

One of over 245 Swifts that went south

A Hobby, presumably yesterday's bird, soared high on two occasions, between Druridge and East Chev and over towards Low Chibburn before drifting south. Scope-views was I all I had, but they were prolonged as it soared on the thermals. Two Merlins and two Sparrowhawks came through as did a juvenile Marsh Harrier  - it was almost like being in Tarifa (maybe not). Green Sandpiper (with a Snipe), Little Egret, four Black-tailed Godwits and 17 Meadow Pipits went south.

One of two Sparrowhawks

And it was gone... one of two Merlins

I went looking for Harebell Bee in the dunes afterwards with no joy but did see some other interesting critters. 

Dune Robberfly (Philonicus albiceps)

Small Copper Butterfly in the Dunes

Hoverfly Scaeva pyrastri