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.

Sunday 3 January 2021

Wet Wet Wet

There is probably no eighties band that I detest more than Wet Wet Wet but those three words are a good description of what it was like on the patch today after, yet more, overnight rain. It was also windy and cold.

Once the rain stopped, we headed out and headed north - from the car with a plan to cut through the dunes onto the beach at the top of the patch. As we crossed the Dunbar Burn we got a blast of icy air from the sea and changed our minds, heading inland instead along the 'Coal Road'  towards Chibburn Preceptory. 

Looking North-east from High Chibburn with water everywhere

The farmland was very wet, the track to the farm was flowing like a stream and the Dunbar Burn was at full bore. We didn't see a lot of birds. 69 Curlew were on winter cereals and a small flock of 26 Chaffinch were feeding by the wood. Three Red-legged Partridges were new for the year (NFY).

Great and Coal Tits were on the feeders at the Druridge Farm Cottages and also 'NFY' as was Mark Eaton and Sam the dog who we 'year-ticked' on our return to the car. 

There was no sign of the Water Pipits in the hinterland or on the Budge fields but I guess there's plenty of Water Pipit habitat everywhere at the moment. The four Ruff that have been flitting between the Budge Fields and Widdrington Moor Lake were back, hanging out with some redshanks on one of the few dry bits.

Today's full list

Saturday 2 January 2021

Following tradition (sort of...)

Tradition dictates that on the 1st January each year (or my first visit to the patch) I see a species that I didn't see in the previous year. It probably doesn't happen that often but it feels as though it does. 

I nearly followed tradition this year - it was the 2nd of January rather than the 1st. 

I saw a respectable 52 species yesterday in two visits on New Years Day, but nothing I hadn't seen in the previous year. Some good January species included Mistle Thrush (13 still in the fields), Bullfinch and Goldcrest on our morning walk and  Mediterranean Gull, Black-throated Diver and Kittiwake on an evening seawatch. The other New Year tradition at Druridge was upheld with near-naked people thinking it a good idea to go into the sea...

No gold at the end of this rainbow but some good species for the year

This morning dawned a colder, greyer day with sleety-snow falling. We didn't have an early start, checking the farm first and adding a flock of nine Redwing and 12 Fieldfare to the list and then setting out on our walk at11.15am, north, into the bitingly-cold wind. We found the finch flock in the dunes, Twite (120), Goldfinch, Linnet, Chaffinch and a few Reed Buntings and Skylarks in the dunes. We headed back along the beach, seeing nothing of note.

Cold and grey with snow clouds on the horizon

As we approached the car, news came through of a Shorelark north of Hemscotthill Farm. Worth a look I thought...

Birdguides reported it in the field immediately south of the patch boundary, which is in a fodder crop and is being stripped-grazed by beast. I got onto a handful of skylark in the fodder-stubble, but the light was against me so I headed south a bit - off-patch, for better light. I soon found the Shorelark feeding in among the Skylarks, but of course, I had to go back onto the patch to see it from there. 

This was my first Shorelark since 2014 when one was on the dunes north of the Dunbar Burn, pursued by photographers. 

Later, an Egyptian Goose was reported from the pool nearer to the farm, but it had gone when I returned in the afternoon.

I had another short seawatch as the wind was in the north. Black-throated Diver was still on the sea and a single Great Northern Diver flew north as did a single Gannet. Auks passage was steady and one with an all-black head stood out from the others, I photographed it  - a Guillemot in breeding plumage already, Stewart Sexton reported that he'd seen a few today.

The highlight of evening seawatches either side of Christmas has been the gull roost. From dusk, no earlier than 3.30pm, gulls arrive in flocks from the fields to the west to roost on the sea - thousands of them! It's a steady passage until dark when there are over 4000 gulls on the sea, about 150m offshore. They're all Black-headed and Common Gulls (about 65-70% BHG, 35-30% CG) with the odd Herring and I've seen up to ten Med Gulls - there could be dozens more as it's impossible to go through them before the light fades - an amazing spectacle. 

I could see the Starling murmuration at Chevington from my dune-top perch, another great spectacle. 

A good start to 2021 with 68 species over two days.  Effort will ease-off when I go back to work next week but it looks as though home-working will be the norm for some time, which gives me more opportunities.