Wednesday, 14 April 2021

Weekend Surveys

I spent most of time on the patch last weekend doing surveys. 

On Saturday I did my second territory mapping visit, it was a few days late but the run of cold, wintery weather has meant that nothing much has arrived and breeding attempts are on hold. Despite it being a warmer and sunnier morning of later, there was less activity than on my first visit - certainly for the dune species like Meadow Pipits and Reed Buntings.

Stunning morning

The only 'new arrival' was a Grasshopper Warbler which was in the small isolated bush by the Blockhouse. As I watched it, it began to reel, half-heartedly at first before putting some ooomf into it. 

Gropper - New in

Chiffchaffs were still vocal as was a Song Thrush that sung all morning. An interesting breeding record is a pair of Long-tailed Tits nest-building along the path to the hides, near to the timber screen. Lotti's are a very scarce breeder on the patch and it might be ten years or more since they last bred. 

One of many Chiffs
One of the breeding Lotti's

Wintering birds are still present however with 45 Twite flying over in three groups. Of note on the Budge fields were 9 Avocet, two Ruff and two Black-tailed Godwits. 

Swallow passage was light but noticeable and there were plenty of feeding Sand Martins over the Big Pool where a pair of Great-crested Grebes were displaying.

Fly-over Shelduck

On Sunday morning I awoke to a light covering of snow (11th April!!). Janet and I set off to do the WeBS count, it was bright but cold, feeling like -5 degrees not 5 degrees. There was plenty to count on the Budge fields with 66 Wigeon and 62 Teal still present. As I scanned, counting Wigeon,  a gull with yellow-legs caught my eye, not a Lesser Black-backed Gull (there were three of them further over playing with a goose egg) - this was a Herring-type gull but with strikingly yellow legs, not just a slight creaminess about them - yellow! The mantle was one or two shades darker than the adjacent Herring Gulls, it moved into deeper water and was head-on so no more detail on shape was to be had. Whilst I assembled my digi-scoping kit, Janet watched it until an incoming Canada Goose flushed it and it flew off, strongly in the direction of Warkworth Lane - we'll never know. Interestingly Dave Dack had a 'possible' adult Yellow-legged Gull later that day at Bell's Pond. 

Waders included a single Little Ringed Plover, four Black-tailed Godwit, four Ruff and two Avocet. Snipe numbers were up to 11. A single White Wagtail was also present. 

On the way home, we stopped to admire the Lapland Bunting and Shorelark at Hemscotthill. 

Digi-scoped Lapland Bunting
Digi-scoped Shorelark

In the evening I had an hours seawatch. It was cold and quiet. Three Sandwich terns feeding offshore were my first for the patch this year. 

A pair of passing Red-breasted Mergansers

Adult Herring Gull 

Common Gull with a knackered leg

Monday, 5 April 2021

Few and far between

Despite lockdown easing, visits to the patch (and therefore blog posts) have been few and far between and there's even fewer photos as I've damaged my hand and can't use the SLR until it's a bit better.

I did start my new challenge last weekend which is to map the breeding birds of the Druridge Links side of the reserve using a territory mapping technique similar to the Common Bird Census. This involves mapping all of the birds encountered during morning visits, along a set transects. The maps are then compiled by species to give rough territories for each species throughout the breeding season Visit should be roughly ten-days apart. Below is a sample of a visit map. 

Mapping sample

I'll pull all of the results together at the end of the season and produce some bonny maps. As well as a challenge, this survey is useful to show how management of the site affects bird populations. The survey should be roughly comparable to one I did ten years ago.

Mute Swan  - not a census species!

Otherwise migration has been slow to get going. Although a Swallow on 30th March was very early. It was 18 degrees back then, it was -8 (felt like) this morning with a light dusting of snow and a hard frost. The Budge field is attracting decent numbers of waders including Black-tailed Godwits, Snipe, Avocet, Ruff (up to six) and a single Little Ringed Plover. Several Lapwings are already on eggs.

As I can't manage the SLR at the moment, here are two photos taken with the  TG6.

False Puffball Reticularia lycoperdon growing on a willow stump

Bracket fungus  - Trametes versicolor 

Wednesday, 24 March 2021

Bunting Bonus

A late morning visit to the patch today after my morning chores were complete. The light was awful for checking the Budge fields so I wandered north to check the dunes where the cows graze for Wheatears - this is always the place I see my first of the year. A Chiffchaff was singing in the bushes. 

Greylag pair from the timber screen

As I reached the coal road,  I nearly walked past a small flock of birds feeding quietly by the water trough, it was the movement that caught my eye as they were otherwise well camouflaged against the dry stems and mud. Twite, mostly, and five or six Skylark. As I scanned left, I came across a chunky, Skylark-sized bird, it was facing away from me but the mantle was obviously much darker and more obviously streaked than the Skylarks it was with. I fancied it was Lapland Bunting because of the size and bulk and the pale tips to the coverts. I watched it feeding for a few moments before it turned its head, to show a brown cheek with the black collar swooshing round to the the eye. Otherwise it wasn't well marked, likely a first-winter female. It was in range for a record-shot but when I lifted my camera it wasn't in the viewfinder. The whole flock had been spooked and took flight, they circled around behind me over the coal road, the Twite and Skylarks came back in but no sign of the Lap. I spent 45 minutes or so trying to relocate with no joy. 

A lap of the dunes looking for the Lap (taken from my eBird log)

No Wheatears but definitely a Brucey Bonus with the Bunting. This was only my second Spring Lapland Bunting on the patch - the only other was back in April 2010! As I searched for the Lap, two Sand Martins flew north overhead - new for the year. 21 Whooper Swans were in the fields beyond the coal road and another 10 were in the front field at Druridge Farm when I drove home.

I crept up on this skylark which was crouched down, camouflaged in the dunes

Another Skylark
Some of the Twite - also well camouflaged!

Stock dove - a bird I've never managed to photograph in flight on the patch before - this could've been better if I'd had time to change the shutter speed. Nice light on the iridescent green neck patch I thought?

Who's this tiny fella lurking in a cracked fencepost?

Zebra Jumping Spider

Tuesday, 23 March 2021

March marches on

Lockdown continues and March marches on towards April. I should've been on holiday in Fife this week, we had a cottage booked in Pittenween for a week... I've still got three days off work this week so will trudge around the 5km patch looking for early migrants - Chiffchaffs are already back in decent numbers.

Whilst the Chiffchaffs are arriving, the Whooper Swans are leaving. The spectacle of hundreds of Whoopers heading north was seen across the region over the weekend and continued through to today. I didn't see hundreds at Druridge but as Janet and I walked along the beach, a herd of 88 moved north just offshore, 30 odd of them ditched into the sea whilst the rest continued their migration north.

Whoopers landing on the sea

Other signs of Spring were welcome. Meadow Pipits are back, parachuting in the dunes Goldfinches fed on Willow catkins and Elf Cups have emerged. Grey Herons were busy in the heronry - they'll be on eggs now.

'Parachuting' Meadow Pipit

Male Goldfinch feeding on Willow catkins
Elf Cups

Winter was still evident however. There's still 300 or so Wigeon on the Budge fields and 400 Pink-footed Geese were in fields near the coal road. 

Drake Wigeon  - one of abut 300 still on the Budge fields

On Sunday evening I did an hours seawatch from 5pm-6pm and it felt like winter, the wind was icy cold. No real signs of spring offshore - I had hoped for a Sandwich Tern, Puffin or even a passing Sand Martin. Lesser Black-backed Gulls, Gannets and a few Kittiwakes flew past and 17 Red-throated Divers were on the sea. Gulls were still coming in to roost at dusk, Black-headed now outnumbering Common Gulls by about 7 to 5. 

Passing Herring Gull

As I left at dusk, 13 Whoopers flew north. They might be the last Whoopers I see until the Autumn. 

Last of the Whoopers headed north?

Tuesday, 16 March 2021

Been a while

 With lockdown restrictions still in place, visits to my patch have been much less frequent than  I would like. I'm still getting out on-foot-from home in my 5km patch though.

In the few visits I have made to the patch, I've mostly been working on net-ride maintenance ahead of the ringing season and I did the march WeBS count last weekend, both of which are permitted activities.

On 5th March Janet and I had a wander around the patch, an early Chiffchaff  was by the timber screen, it wasn't singing but was calling almost constantly and hasn't been seen since. We also had 140 Twite in the dunes and a few singing Skylarks.

Early Chiffchaff

On 7th March I did a quick evening seawatch in a brisk NW wind. I had one each of Great Northern and Black-throated Divers on the sea with a good count of 37 red-throated Divers. When I left, over 1100 common and black-headed gulls were on the sea and more were streaming in from the west.

Last Saturday, there was report of two Ruddy Shelduck north of Hemscotthill Farm so we called by on our way to the shops - to find three of them with 45+ Shelducks. A brief stop on the patch boundary got them on my patch year list too. 

Janet and I had a late walk around the patch on Saturday evening, it was a lovely sunny evening, so some of photos came out okay. When we left as dusk approached we estimated over 1100 Common Gulls on the sea. 

Drake Wigeon over
Drake Mallard
Common Gull
One of 1100+ Common gull

On Sunday I did the WeBS Count. There was plenty to count so it took me a while, Wigeon numbers are still really high (322), as they have been all winter and, as has been the case through the winter, Teal numbers remained lower (43). 35 Shovelers on the Budge Fields was a good count. 12 Grey Herons were looking dapper in their breeding plumage. Waders included four Ruff, a single Black-tailed Godwit, five dunlin and 35 Curlew. A few Lapwings were displaying and an obvious pair of Oystercatchers were sat tight.

On the big pools there was a flock of 106 Canada Geese with a single Barnacle Goose. A Great-crested Grebe appeared to be on its own.

Digi-scoped Barnie

I was asked recently to do a 'virtual' talk for the Natural History Society Of Northumbria about patch-watching at Druridge. I had to record it on Zoom and submit to them. Despite spending half of my life these days on Zoom/Teams etc I much prefer to talk to a live audience. I recorded it in a hurry to meet a deadline and I'm not happy with it really, but here is a link to it. 

Sunday, 14 February 2021


It's been really cold this week, with snow and ice dominating and a brisk easterly through to southerly wind making feel even colder.

Continuing restrictions have meant limited trips to the patch and a lot of birding on foot from home for the 5km patch list which is coming along nicely. I have been popping into the patch, if I've been passing that way and a 'change' in rules has meant that surveys like WeBS can continue as long as you stay local and obey social distancing rules. I suppose there had to be a relaxation given that it was legal to stand in a field and shoot birds but not to count them.

The cold weather has brought an influx of birds not usually seen in big numbers at this time of year. Hundreds of winter thrushes, particularly redwings are now on the coast, there are Woodcock, Snipe and Jack Snipe (we saw one today) in decent numbers and I counted 67 Meadow Pipits on the Budge fields today and 18 Stock Dove near the farm yesterday.

Snipe flushed from the Coal Road yesterday
One of many Redwings

Some of the Canada Goose flock yesterday with Pink-footed Geese in the fields behind

The WeBS count was busy with big counts of Wigeon (352) and Mallard (106) but lower numbers of Teal (64) than usual. A Long-tailed Duck on the Big Pool was a bonus. 

All of the wildfowl are looking smart now and this drake Shoveler was particularly dapper

The Budge fields were almost frozen over and devoid of ducks,  a few Lapwing and Curlew needed counting though.

The Lapwing were finding any shelter they could from the cold southerly winds
Carrion Crow looking for food on frozen ground
Moorhen legging it through the snow

Sunday, 17 January 2021

Lockdown listing

Visits to my Druridge Patch aren't going to be very frequent as we've gone into Lockdown Part III. I'm back to birding on foot from home in line with the current restrictions. I've got a new challenge for the year - Lockdown listing. Alan Tillmouth set the ball rolling on this, birding only within a 5km radius of home. 

I'm quite lucky in that my patch includes a good length of coast including most of my Druridge patch and some more ponds -  Cresswell, Ellington, Linton Lane, Warkworth Lane, Woodhorn and the QEII Country Park. There's some nice woodland including Chugdon Woods and Ellington Dene and I'm yet to explore Ashington Community Woodlands (formerly known as Pit heaps). 

My 5km patch

I've had a few excursions in the last couple of weeks, all on foot, including Cresswell Pond, Snab Point and mammoth trek south to Beacon Point last weekend which was the first time I've walked there from home. Today, Janet and I headed to the Wild West of the 5km patch - Linton Pond, returning by North Linton and Warkworth Lane Ponds. It's ages since I've been to Linton Pond - there were lots of birds but nothing unusual. At North Linton we found a big flock Fieldfare and Redwings with over 30 Yellowhammers and 50 Tree Sparrows in the adjacent hedge.

Alien landscape next to Lynemouth Power Station

Looking west across Warkworth Lane and Highthorne towards the snowy Cheviots

Warkworth Lane on a frosty morning

Closer to home, I've been checking Ellington Pond in my lunch breaks. I've found a huge flock over 600 Linnets using a winter bird crop in the arable field next to the pond. They're feeding on fodder radish which is amongst the unharvested barley.

Bird food crop
Linnets heading in to feed
Linnet flock
A single linnet

I've recorded a decent 104 species on 5km patch and it's getting me out to places I never usually go to. To spur us on with a bit of friendly rivalry Alan has set up a list on Bubo

I did get to visit my Druridge Patch yesterday. We were passing on our way home from shopping so it made sense. There was a lot of disturbance from the pheasant shoot next door (strange how that is still allowed) but managed to add Marsh Harrier, Shelduck and Buzzard to my year-list. It was a lovely sunny afternoon and it was nice to get away from the mud of the paths and woods around home. 

Two of a larger flock of Curlew headed over

Sanderlings heading south over the breakers after being flushed from the beach by a dog.

I'll keep the blog updated with news from Lockdown 5km patch and Druridge when I'm allowed.