Saturday 19 November 2022

Last gasps of autumn

The forecast didn't look too promising for this weekend and I felt like autumn was slipping away without a final finale. However, on Thursday things started to look better, with an easterly and some good seawatching. Instead of seawatching, I was sat in my office in zoom meetings all day.


As there looked to be a slim chance of a late migrant or two, I took a flyer on Friday afternoon and headed to the patch with Janet. We started with a look on the sea but it was quiet, a bonxie going south, only my second of the year, was the highlight. Not an auk in sight. Janet found a snow bunting on the beach which was a year-tick.

Female snow bunting in poor light

Same bird, different pose

We headed for the bushes, checking the area around the start of the path to the hides first. A female blackcap was a good start. I got onto a small bird flitting about in the branches, above the blackcap - I called 'yellow-browed warbler' to get Janet onto it, but it had flitted off. Even though I had the briefest views - Strong wing-bar and supercillium, pale tips to darker secondary feathers, it wasn't right for a yellow-brow. It was duller than a yellow-browed, almost with a grey cast. Hume's warbler sprang to mind but I needed better views to be sure and Janet needed to see it. I put the news out as 'a probable'.

We didn't have to wait long, as the bird re-appeared to the right and gave tantalizingly brief views as it flitted quickly through the branches. It had a colder, greyer look to it than a YBW, the wing bar and the supercilium were more off-white without yellow tones and the bill and legs appeared to be dark. It hadn't called at this stage, but we were both confident that it was Hume's and put the news out.

A 'bird wave' of tits and goldcrests came through, which also brought a willow tit and chiffchaff to the party. We lost the warbler in the melee, when we refound it, it was further right and it flew and called - a short, sharp two-tone call, not like yellow-browed's more drawn out 'twoo-eeee'. It did this twice before flying off south. 

We suspected it might have gone south with the tit flock, so I headed down towards the Budge hide but couldn't relocate it. Two ruff were on the fields and water rails were calling. We couldn't relocate the warbler by dusk so headed home. I would be back in the morning.

I had a likely Hume's warbler many years ago by the Budge hide. It's in a long-lost notebook and was never submitted, so technically not a new bird for the patch. I've seen three others in the county, at Whitley Bay (2006), Lynemouth Power Station (2002) and East Chevington (2001). 

Robin - ever-present and singing a mournful autumn tune


I got down to the patch at about 9.30. A handful of birders including Ashington Gary and Paul from Gateshead were loitering on the path but had not seen the bird, I headed north for a look through bushes. Two female long-tailed ducks were on Druridge Pool. With no further sign, I headed south to the Budge hide and checked the bushes there. It was quiet, so I checked the Budge fields and picked up a water pipit on call, which I eventually found feeding on wet grassland to the left of the hide. Bonus!

I wandered north through the bushes, when a tit flock came through and I picked up a firecrest amongst them. Nice. This was my third of the year on the patch! The flock headed south, so I followed them. I called ADMc as I know he likes a firecrest. Andy, Paul, Bob and Steve arrived - the bird was tricky to pin down, but they all got onto it eventually. 

Not sure this photo will make the Annual Report.

Whilst scanning for the firecrest, I found yesterday's Hume's warbler in a big willow. It was really tough to get people on it before it flew north over the path with some long-tailed tits. I found it again in a lower willow but it was lost to view after that and not seen again. I'm not sure how many people saw it - So frustrating!

A treecreeper was added to the day list - a scarce species on the patch.

I think that might be autumn over...

Friday 21 October 2022

Strokes of luck

Several strokes of luck led to a full-fat patch tick today  -  Pallas's leaf warbler

Firstly  - I decided to take today off work today instead of next Friday

Secondly - When news broke of a Radde's Warbler at Newbiggin-by-the-Sea and Wood lark at Newton, I stuck to my plan and birded the patch

Thirdly - I bumped into Darren Woodhead and his son Corin.

I set out, as planned, to bird the patch, I was there for 7.40 and it was just light but foggy. I followed my usual plan of attack, to work the bushes by the entrance and the plantation before heading north.

Not long out of the car, I got onto a classic Siberian (tristis) chiff, grey above, green in the wings and off-white below, not warm at all. And it called a thin 'toot'.

Two birders, that I'd not seen before, arrived shortly after me and started birding the plantation. They also had a sibe, when I went into the plantation, it also called - 'toot'  - two birds (?). They were on a yellow-browed warbler. Darren and Corin Woodhead from Lothian. I recognised Darren - and now I know from where - I've often admired his artwork on my annual trips to Birdfair.

record shot of Yellow-browed warbler

Yellow-browed warbler

I spent the next hour or so in the plantation with repeated views of the yellow-browed, lots of crests, robins, wrens and a steady trickle of skylarks overhead and a group of c25 siskin south. Four brambling dropped in and fed for a while. 


Back at the 'entrance bushes' I was watching a yellow-browed when a second bird called from the sycamore at the plantation- two. Redwings came in overhead. News broke of a Radde's warbler at Newbiggin - I ignored it. 

I moved up to the middle plantation, where Darren and Corin were scouring the trees. I joined them, Darren and I were looking through the pines and sycamores, but Corin was watching the scattered scrub to the north and exclaimed suddenly  'Pallas's'!

mega-cropped record shot of Pallas's leaf warbler in flight -  6400 ISO

We got straight onto it - a Siberian gem, flitting around a crab apple tree. A patch tick for me and a great find for Corin. We enjoyed the bird for a good while before it flitted off. ADMc and others joined us, Whilst scouring the goldcrests for the Pallas's, I got briefly onto a firecrest, thankfully it showed on and off for the next 30 minutes, as did the the Pallas's. Another yellow-browed warbler was calling in the bushes to the north. 

Further north I found another firecrest in a small flock of crests and tits behind the Budge hide. 

Up at the path to the hides, by the timber screen, a 'bird wave' passed through with a long-tailed tit flock. There were at least five chiffchaffs around that area. This one has me stumped though - not a classic Sibe, I thought, too 'warm' but also too brown for a bog standard collybita. I know that Sibe's can be variable though and light plays a huge part.  It didn't call. Not sure on this one...

'brown' chiff
same bird
'Bog-standard Chiff'

I heard a lapland bunting calling, it passed overhead behind three skylarks, all going south. A flock of about 18 lesser redpoll fed in the alders and I found a few more siskin further north before I headed home. 

lots of these miserable-looking birds 

and these
a few of these

This afternoon, I acquiesced and went to the Ash Lagoon Banks at Newbiggin to look for the Radde's. No luck there, although others claimed it, but a roosting long-eared owl was worth the trip and new for the5km2 patch. 

I'll be back out again tomorrow. 

Sunday 31 July 2022

Med Gull Madness

 After a walk up to north end of the patch and back on Friday after work, I did a bit of an evening seawatch , until it was nearly dusk. 

It was relatively quiet, but there were a couple of close scoter flocks, numbering around 350 birds combined, so I went through them looking for a velvet or better. Three great-crested grebes and a red-throated diver were I could manage. Interestingly, the scoter flock was made up of over 95% drakes. 

Otherwise, a few terns and gannets... that is, until I noticed a couple of Mediterranean gulls flying south and then for some reason, I turned to look inland to see a small flock of Meds head south behind me, they were soon followed by another flock of 25 birds, they were all flying south, over the reserve, as far away as the shelterbelt. Several more flocks followed and they were still passing, in small numbers by the time I left. My final count was 72, there were also 15, including 5 juveniles, in the gull roost on the beach.

One of the passing Meds at dusk

I can only assume that they had been feeding in fields north and west of Druridge and headed south to roost at Lynemouth or Newbiggin. 

There were 48 sanderling on the beach, the adults molting out of breeding plumage. 


On Saturday, it was a still and humid evening. Janet and I had a walk along the beach, there were plenty of Sandwich terns offshore including a few juveniles which is promising. 

Sandwich Tern
Sandwich Tern

There was big southerly passage of sand martins, we counted at least 200 passing through. 

Sand Martin

Today (Sunday), there was a northerly wind for most of the day, so I tried an afternoon seawatch but it was quiet. 15 Manx went north and there were at least 8 Roseate terns offshore. A flock of about 30 southbound redshanks were noteworthy.

Here are some photos of the stonechat family in the dunes. 

Male stonechat



Thursday 21 July 2022

New Hovers

It's that time of year again - birding is quiet and the macro lens comes out instead of the 400mm.

I've managed to find three new hoverflies for the patch over the last couple of weeks. The first was Eristalinus sepulchralis - one of the 'spotty-eyed drone flies'. Not something I was expecting on the patch, although Chris Barlow has seen them here before. A new hoverfly for me. This one was along the track to the hides, between the bunds. I am disappointed not to get the whole creature in focus - the joys of macro photography. I'll update the hoverfly gallery which can be found in the top menu.

Eristalinus sepulchralis

Next up was Leucozona laternaria - not a common hover in Northumberland I think. This one was by the road, where the track heads to the hides. 

Leucozona laternaria

The last species that was new for the patch is under-debate, as to whether it is one or more species. At the moment it is regarded as 'complex' of  Melangyna compositarum/labiatarum. Complex Melangyna compositarum is how it remains on my list.

Melangyna compositarum/labiatarum

This Cheilosia sp could be new but it can't be identified to species form these photos. 

Tuesday 19 July 2022

A long-awaited patch tick

 Red Kite has been my most anticipated patch tick for about four years and today I finally nailed one. 

I was looking west from the dunes this morning after my WeBS count when I spotted a long-winged raptor over the shelterbelt by the haul road. I put the scope straight on it and there it was, a red kite sauntering along the top of the pine trees (what's left of them). I watched it for a while as it went it back and forth. A stunning bird.

Record shot - you can just make out the forked tail

Red Kite has been on the official Druridge patch list since 2016 but it's taken me another six years to catch up with one. There have been many more records from this part of Northumberland in recent months so it was only a matter of time.

Red kite takes my patch list to 254 species. 

The belated WeBS count this morning was quiet (we were away on the Solway Coast at the weekend). A handful of dunlin and snipe and three black-tailed godwit were all of note. The Budge fields look good but East Chevington seems to be attracting all of the waders at the moment. 

Today was hot, it probably touched 30 degrees this afternoon and it was still humid and warm this evening. I headed to the patch for an evening seawatch. A flock of 700 scoters were close in, I scanned them several times but could only find commons scoters. About 24 manx shearwaters flew north in several groups and two red-throated divers and two great-crested grebes were still in summer plumage. There were a few terns feeding including up to seven roseate, which is good given the Avian Influenza tragedy unfolding on Coquet Island.

A beautiful sunset drew close on the hottest day of they year (so far...). I started the day with a red kite and ended it with a red sky.

This my first blog post for ages. I'm struggling to find the time to keep with things and the blog has slipped. I've got some new hoverflies for the patch to report, I just need a wet evening to write another post. 

Sunday 15 May 2022

Putting in a stint or five for the WeBS count

Well, I didn't expect to finish my WeBS count this morning by adding FOUR Temminck's Stints to it - but that's what happened!

John Day, an RSPB friend from Bedfordshire and his pal Darren joined us at Druridge this morning, they are up here for a weekends birding. When we joined them just after 7am they'd already seen more species than you can see in a month in Bedfordshire!

It was WeBS count day, so I counted the ducks whilst they enjoyed watching spoonbill, little stint, avocets, pintail, dunlins, lapwing chicks and other nice species. Little stint was new for the year so I was already happy with that. Count done and all three hides checked we headed back to the cars. They were off to the Harthope Valley whilst Janet and I opted for a look on the sea. Seeing very little, I checked my phone to see a missed call from Steve Holliday, and a text message - 'four Temminck's Stint in front of Budge Screen'. Seemingly they'd just dropped in. 

We called John and Darren who were still faffing at their car and rushed to the hide, where, thankfully, the four birds could be seen on the edge of the pool. The four of them stuck pretty-close together and fed frantically along the muddy edge. I always think the 'gait' of Temminck's is quite diagnostic, they almost creep on their 'knees' as if their legs are set too far back on their bodies. They were chased by a redshank a couple of times, and then, without cause or warning, they were off, zig-zagging at first before flying off high and directly north. Steve and I thought that this might be a record count of this species for the County? These were my first patch Temminck's since two were on a pool by the coal haul road back in 2013. 

Record shot  - just to prove there were four!

A slightly better shot of two of them

And one flying off

A very pleasant end to a morning's birding. Big thanks to Steve H for the tip-off.

The Budge Fields are looking fab at the moment. Despite the relatively dry spring, the water levels remain very high, something has changed with the hydrology of the site this winter I think. Birds are dropping in all the time, not long after we left a wood sandpiper was reported. The 'Channel' wagtail that I found on Friday was seen again today.

Here are a few more pics from the last couple of days.

Proud parent on guard

And here's the reason why!

You can see why barn swallows were called bluebirds!

Spoonbills are now a common spring and summer species on the patch

Pochard are increasingly uncommon - the four that are on site at the moment are most unusual nowadays
The geese took a dislike to two roe deer who wandered through the pool. Roe deer are on the increase, almost plague-proportions these days.

My Druridge patch year-list is now on 130 and my 5km from home list is on 157. 

Monday 21 March 2022

March WeBS

We arrived back from a week away in Cornwall (and a brief visit to the Somerset Levels) yesterday evening, twitching the long-staying belted kingfisher in Lancashire on the way home. It was my first time birding in Cornwall and I really enjoyed it. The Avalon Marshes were pretty spectacular too. We saw some good species including Kumlien's gull, yellow-legged gull, firecrest, ring ouzel, chough (13 from our accommodation was the peak count), black restarts, rosy starling and black-necked grebes.

I was back on the patch before work this morning to do the WeBS Count. There was plenty to count on the Budge fields which were full of birds. Wigeon was the numerous duck species with 257 counted. I'd just finished counting what I thought was them all, when this male marsh harrier appeared over the pools and scattered everything. It was soon apparent that there were a lot more wigeon than I had originally counted, so I had to start again.

Male marsh harrier in the morning sunshine

Looking for food

A decent count of 35 shoveler and a single pale-bellied brent goose was on the fields before flying north. 

Pale-bellied brent goose

Avocet had been reported from the patch whilst I was away in Cornwall but there were none this morning. Five ruff, three black-tailed godwit, 31 curlew and 17 snipe were notable. There was no sign of the jack snipe that's been around for a few days. 

From the little hide I picked up the water pipit that's been seen over the weekend. It had either bee bathing or walking through the frosty grass as it looked a bit bedraggled. It's starting to look a bit 'pinky' on the breast I think.

Water pipit
Looking a bit bedraggled

Chifchaff was the only migrant passerine 'new in' and two siskins by the Budge hide were notable for late March. 

Friday 7 January 2022

Raven - an unexpected patch tick

 A new species for the patch this afternoon and quite unexpected  - Raven!

The circumstances were quite fortuitous. I was on the patch for work this afternoon. Our wonderful Coast Care team were working on behalf of National Trust, doing some coppicing in the bushes and I popped down to meet them and thank them for their hard work. After they left I had a quick look on the sea,  a very late lunch-break. A black-throated diver was way to the south, a great northern diver flew south and a couple of great crested grebes were on the sea - all good stuff. I got a call from Mark Whittingham to say that he had found a white-fronted goose, probably a Greenland race bird, in the pink-footed flock in the front-field at the farm. 

I'd noticed the PFG flock on my way to meet the team and did think they would be worth a look through. 

When I got there, the light was awful, looking straight into the setting sun, but I picked up the white-front in the flock. The bill looked orange, but not a 'huge carrot' and the legs looked stout and orange so I assumed Greenland race, but the light was dreadful.

I scanned through the pink foots further south, into better light, looking for something different, and I found something completely different! A huge corvid in amongst the geese, it looked almost as big as the geese! Raven surely. It was facing away but when it turned it's head, the huge deep bill confirmed it as a full patch tick. Species 253 for the patch. 

The brute

digi-scoped record shots

Not a species I was expecting to see, but maybe it should have been more on my radar? The range is increasing and they're breeding on the coast further north from us now. Janet saw one recently at Snab Point, so maybe this was the same bird?

It was quite funny, as when I had been with the Coast Care team earlier, one of them was using a pair of loppers that sounded like the 'cronk' of a raven, which caught me out a couple of times. I mentioned to him that raven would be a new bird for the patch  - little did I know what was to come!

Photos of the white-fronted goose circulated by Mark are inconclusive so it might be 'un-raced' until I get a better look. hopefully on the bird race tomorrow.

Saturday 1 January 2022

Tradition dictates

Tradition dictates that on my first visit to the patch of the year, I'll find a species that I hadn't seen on the patch in the previous year. This happens most years. And guess what? It happened again today.

I've not seen yellowhammer on the patch since 24th November 2019 so to find a flock of eight in the hedge behind Druridge Farm was a real surprise.  I was beginning to think that they were locally extinct.

Today was unseasonably mild, 12 degrees C, but it was very windy from the SW. Janet and I had a good wander around the patch and managed to see 53 species in total. Highlights included a southbound great northern diver offshore, two woodcock flushed from the bushes, at least 300 Linnet and 200 chaffinch in the dunes and eight stock doves.

There was a lot of people though. It was like a July Sunday with cars abandoned at the site entrance and hundreds of people on the beach. 

The beach was busier than it looks in this photo!

The ringed plover flock that roosts on the beach at the south of the patch had no chance to settle and just flew back and forth, looking to rest. 

Ringed Plovers looking for somewhere to rest - no chance today.

I finished 2021 on a credible 167 species for the patch, which, given how poor an autumn it was wasn't too bad. Usual autumn stuff like pied and spotted flycatchers, garden warber, yellow-browed warbler, redstart and whinchat all missing from my list.

I also concentrated a bit more on the 5km patch challenge because of covid-lockdown. I saw 191 species within 5km of home which was nine more than the next patches. Ellington is obviously a good place to live if you're a birder. I'll continue with the 5km challenge this year as it does add a bit of variety to my birding.

I'm hoping to keep the blog updated more regularly too. My work/life balance needs some adjustment I think.

Today's list on eBird

Passing Curlew