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.