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.