Friday, 18 November 2016

It's a record breaker!

2016 has been a record-breaking year on the patch - I have seen more species on  the patch in 2016 than any previous year.

Sundays hen harrier - my first on the patch since before 2002, took this year's species tally to 172, beating the previous record of 171 set in 2013 and repeated in 2014.

I am not sure what has made this year so special as despite the very good autumn for passerines, I didn't see many unusual species for autumn - firecrest being an exception. It has been a good year for waders with broad-billed sandpiper new for the patch and good year birds like jack snipe and pectoral sandpiper - grey plover and Temminck's stint where the only real 'missers'.

I missed a few regulars though - spoonbill (recorded annually since 2010), pomarine skua (one miss since 2009), garden warbler and bullfinch. I suppose there is still time for a little auk, purple sand, long-tailed duck, rock pipit or even a white-winged duck to further boost the tally.

Last Sunday was my first day back on the patch after a nine-day trip to Fuerteventura. I was watching these on the saturday morning.

Cream-coloured Courser
It was really nice to see a hen harrier back on the patch. I was loathed to mention it's presence on here, but as they are all over social media there is nothing to lose. The photos show this to be a juvenile - the dark secondaries on the underwing being a tell-tale sign.

Juvenile hen harrier being mobbed by a crow

I did the WeBS count on Sunday too. There were a lot more wigeon and teal than when I left for Fuerteventura and the snipe numbers had increased to 18 (at least - although a passing hen harrier helps to get an accurate count). Three little egret and 18 black-tailed godwit gave the count a hint of summer. There were three nice red-breasted mergansers on five goldeneye on the big pool.

Good numbers of lapwing and duck on the Budge Fields
There has also been an obvious recent influx of blackbirds as there were many of them feeding up on hawthorn berries. Two greenfinches (a scarce species at Druridge) in the willows by the entrance were the first of the autumn and there were still plenty of robins about.

Today, a hen harrier passed through briefly and a female sparrowhawk was causing havoc on the Budge fields. I had a walk through the bushes, there were still plenty of blackbirds on the berries. This fella was watching me, watching him, through the fence.

The inquisitive Mr Fox 
At the top end, I inadvertently flushed a roosting long-eared owl. It flew from it's perch, straight at me - it's bright orange eyes looking straight at me, before it back-flipped and flew off north. I wonder if it is a recent arrival?

Sunday, 23 October 2016

Easterlies that did not deliver

After the excitement of the last couple of weeks on the back of a run of easterly winds, the forecast of more easterlies for this weekend got me going again, I was even contemplating an emergency flexi-day from work. It was too windy to ring so I made do with a later start and a wander through the bushes.

It soon became apparent that it was all very quiet, nothing at all in the plantation, a few robins, tits and crest in the entrance willows and other than the area by the feeders, nothing behind the Budge screen - same further north - bar a couple of great-spotted woodpeckers. There had obviously been no arrival of birds.

Grey-looking robin
A great white egret was on the Budge fields when I checked from the screen-hide. A bonus of three finders points for the PWC.

Dejected, I headed home.

Golden plovers funneling back to the ground
Some of the golden plover flock
On the way north later in the day, Janet and I stopped to see a flock of about 1800 golden plover in ploughed field opposite High Chibburn. I returned later in the day to have a scan through them as there had recently been an American golden plover at Low Newton. The light was fading fast and the birds were restless, nothing stood out as being unusual in any way. By 1740 the light had gone and so had my eyes.

I hope that I don't regret not taking that that flexi-leave day tomorrow...

Monday, 17 October 2016

The easterly wind that just keeps giving...

The wind has been out of the east for well over a week now and it just keeps bringing the birds. I didn't manage to get onto the patch during week because of work, other than a quick look around the plantation on Thursday evening when I saw and heard a siberian chiffhcaff (tristis) in the willows by the entrance. It looked very drab compared to the collybita that was in the same tree, It's call was really obvious - quite a sharp, almost monosyllabic 'peep' which it did frequently.

Not really being one for twitching, I decided against heading south to see any of the Siberian Accentors that have turned up and concentrated on the patch (and football) instead. There will be one in the county by the end of the week...

Saturday morning was damp, with light rain/mizzle most of the morning, I started in the plantation and work north towards the 'Mike Carr Path'. There had been a big arrival of birds on Friday (I was on Holy Island and it was 'hotching') and it looked like little had cleared out in the foul weather and more birds were arriving with flocks of thrushes being obvious - blackbirds, redwings and song thrushes did drop in, the fieldfares perched on treetops before moving off inland quite quickly. Goldcrests and robins were really obvious but I couldn't find anything rarer amongst them.

A single male brambling was in the willows and few siskins were seen towards the Budge screen. From the bushes, I heard some commotion of the Budge fields and looked across to see a juvenile marsh harrier coming through - it pounced on something and stayed down - presumably eating what it had caught. Eventually I had to drag myself away to go to the match.

This morning I started in the plantation where I had a group of six mealy redpolls fly in together and perch before moving on - these are the first mealies I have had on the patch since 2005! Moving on north through the bushes there were still huge numbers of goldcrests - I estimated 80-100 and plenty of thrushes, even some fieldfare were still feeding on hawthorn and whitebeam berries.

A kingfisher called and I got onto it flying north over the Budge fields -  a good year for a very scarce species on the patch.

Siskin, lesser redpolls, goldfinches and brambling were roaming about the alders. As I got to the Mike Carr path it had started to rain and I thought about heading home for lunch, luckily I couldn't drag myself away and got onto a firecrest on the edge of the path, but I was looking through the bushes at it - when I was repositioning myself to try and get a photo a male sparrowhawk shot through and scattered everything and I couldn't find it in increasingly heavy rain - time for lunch.

These two large woodpigeon young were still in the nest
The rain stopped by 2pm and I was back on the patch by 2.30 and headed for the area that the firecrest was in. The first bird I saw was a lesser whitethroat - a species I had given up on this year. I didn't get long on the bird before it flew off, not even time to reach for the camera. Superficially the upperparts appeared brown, the head was grey and the dark 'mask' was obvious but not striking. I would have loved to had more time on this bird and got some photos but it vanished and I couldn't relocate it. Onwards...

In the same area I came across a willow warbler, quite late for this species and my latest ever record on the patch. Here it is...

Willow warbler
I spent some time by the low whitebeams and watched a constant stream of goldcrests coming through with at least three chiffchaffs and then a strip warbler - not as stripy as I was hoping for though - a yellow-browed warbler - not it's more flashy cousin that I was hoping for,,,

I had to leave the warblers to do my WeBS count before it got dark. five black-tailed godwit, one ruff and a couple of little egret of note. This cormorant was nice in the setting sun.

The addition of brambling, mealy redpoll, firecrest and lesser whitethroat takes my year list 170 - one off my record tally of 171 in 2013 and 2014. Could this be a record breaking year?

Sunday, 9 October 2016

From the east

The wind has been out of the east for the last five days or so, and it is really coming from the east with an airflow coming from from Siberia and beyond.

An easterly wind in October...the perfect combination.

And so it was, White's thrush on Holy Island on Wednesday and a supporting cast of several Pallas's warblers, red-breasted flycatchers  and little buntings and lots of yellow-browed warblers and that was just in Northumberland. Not so much excitement on the patch. There have been at least two yellow-browed warblers in the bushes by the entrance from Sunday.

The start of the week was quite summery, on Sunday speckled wood butterflies were obvious in the rides with 20 noted, common darters and migrant hawkers, including this pair, were still evident.

Speckled Wood
Migrant hawkers

The wind did come out of the north and a seawatch produced three sooty shearwaters and a summer-plumaged great northern diver headed north.

On Thursday morning, thrush passage was evident with mistle thrushes and a few fieldfare passing over, song thrushes, redwings and blackbirds in the bushes. A group of ten swallow passed south - could be the last?

Sunset on Thursday
On Friday and Saturday mornings we put some nets up. We caught about 70 birds on each session. Goldcrests were the most abundant species with 18 on Friday and 26 on Saturday - we also caught a lot of robins and a handful of song thrushes, redwings, chiffchaffs, wrens, dunnocks and blackcaps. Lesser redpoll and siskins were newly arrived on the patch and a couple of great-spotted woodpeckers were new-in.

Great Spotted Woodpecker - this photo shows its incredibly long tongue
Redwing  - one of three
Pink-footed geese were heard regularly overhead and about 500 have settled in the stubble field at High Chibburn and about 65 barnacle geese headed south on Friday

Bright and breezy conditions were forecasted for this morning so a more leisurely start was in order. A wander through the bushes from 11am this morning - there had obviously been a clear out with goldcrests being particularly less obvious. A yellow-browed warbler was very vocal in the willows by the entrance and a few redwing sprung out as I passed by and blackcaps were gorging on elderberries.

As I loitered by the middle bushes, I heard a rustling in the grass and a stoat popped it's head up, I managed a to grab a photos...

There were a few waders on the budge fields and I thought I must return with my scope and then a message arrived on my phone 'red-flanked bluetail at Amble Yacht Club'. I was hungry so a drive by the pasty shop and onto Amble but there was no sign of the bird so back to Druridge.

Bob Gadjus was in the Budge screen when I arrived, and had picked up a distant owl. It flew south then closer, I got onto it in the scope and at first I thought it was long-eared but on reflection it was probably a short-eared owl - it never got close. A second Asio owl was much closer, over the bushes by the path to the Oddie hide and was definitely a long-eared owl.

I scanned through the waders and came across a group of dunlin, there was a bird amongst them that was different - about 1/4 bigger than the dunlin with a no markings on the flanks or belly, the streaking on the breast ending abruptly against the white lowerparts. Pectoral sandpiper - my first on the patch since 2007. Seemingly there has been a 'pec' at Chev for much of the week so I am guessing this is the same bird - nonetheless a welcome year-tick.

Two juvenile ruff, four black-tailed godwits, three redshank and 20+ snipe made up the rest.

The easterly airflow is set to continue until at least next Monday. I will be grilling the patch for my first Pallas's warbler, little bunting or maybe...even... a Siberian Accentor....

With the addition of kingfisher (first since 2007) and the above, my year list stands at 166. 171 is my highest ever count in 2013 and 2014. My Patchwork Challenge score is 241.

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Nocturnal ringing

I am guilty of abandoning my blog a little lately. My camera has been off to get mended, the camera wasn't reading the CF card. It's back now and I am £220 lighter. A blog shouldn't need photographs, but I found it harder to get motivated to write posts without them. It is also a busy time of year with barn owl boxes to check.

Last night we decided, a bit on the spur of the moment, to try a storm petrel ringing session. The weather forecast looked a bit dicey all day, but a quick check at 9.30pm when the wine/ringing decision needed to be made, showed that the showers had cleared and the wind was going to be light.

So, by 10.30 we were all set up on the beach, but it was still quite light in the western sky. By 11.30pm it was dark and we caught our first storm petrel at 11.45. We caught three more before 1.30am, when I was ringing the last of these, Janet returned from the nets with a 'bigger bird'.

The bigger bird was a Leach's Petrel. It was already ringed so it will be really interesting to see it's history. They are much bigger than stormies - almost twice the weight, there is certainly no mistaking them.
Leach's Petrel
This is our third year of petrel ringing at Druridge and we've caught storm petrel on every occasion but this was our first ever Leach's. I've never seen this species anywhere so it was great to have a close look at one.

We caught another two storm petrels, bringing the total to six, before we packed up 2.30am. Whilst we were ringing the last two, we had Leach's petrel calling over our heads and over the net.

Hopefully we will be able to have a few more sessions before the end of the summer.

Sunday, 19 June 2016


There's been no blogging for while as I have been away to the Scottish Highlands for a few days. We stayed in a cottage in Glen Cassley - about as remote as it gets! No wifi, no mobile phone signal and no TV but there were greenshanks nesting at the end of the garden, dunlin and snipe displaying and an osprey pair just up the glen.

Being a coastal type, I was spoilt for choice with Handa Island, Lochinver and the Coigach to the west and the Dornoch firth and Loch Fleet to the east. We didn't make it north to the Kyle of Tongue, but did spend a couple of hours in Thurso which was long enough. Unfortunately my camera refused to read or write to any memory cards after day two so I don't have many photos.

The view up the glen to Ben More Assynt

Home for the week - the neighbours popped by to say hello! 

Another Bonxie on Handa Island

Pale Arctic Skua on Handa

Him'n'her - Arctic Skuas on Handa
Back to Druridge this morning and a bit of ringing. I caught mostly juvenile birds including family parties of wren, willow warbler and great tit and a few young robins.

The great tit family was interesting, there were 10 birds in the net, nine juveniles and an adult - the whole brood and dad! The adult male was a retrap. I first caught him in July 2010 when he was fresh juvenile himself - he hasn't gone far in six years, but is obviously doing well. I've only caught him on two other occasions - in October 2011 and June 2013.

We also caught an adult stonechat today. Although stonechat is a common species at Druridge, we rarely catch many as they tend to stick to the dunes, any we do catch are usually wandering juveniles.

2nd year male stonechat
You can see from this photo that this is a second-year bird, the fringing on some of the crown feathers is the give-away here.

There seems to be a few more lapwing on the Budge fields now. I presume that these are returning birds that have failed to raise chicks - which is the story on the Budge fields this year, despite many sitting birds, there are hardly any chicks. The cold and wet spell a couple of weeks ago did for many ground nesters.

The swallows in the hides aren't faring any better with only one occupied nest.

Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Some you win...

Well...where to start?

What a weekend  - on so many levels.

It all started on Friday when I was just to about to get on the train at Widdrington, headed for the Test Match at Chester-le-Street when I get a call from Dave Elliott to say he was watching either an icterine warbler or melodious warbler at Druridge - both new patch birds. It ended today, with me watching a stunning broad-billed sandpiper on the Budge fields - a new bird for the patch.

Dave soon nailed the warbler as an icterine and by the time I was downing my first pint in Newcastle Station he'd found another new bird for the patch - common rosefinch. No turning back now, I was bound for Chester-le-Street and like a tory recession - a double-dip (the cricket was good though).

With much restraint on Friday night and against all odds, I was up at 5.30am on Saturday and setting my nets up at Druridge by 6am - the weather was perfect for ringing but I wasn't catching many birds. I think most of the warblers are on eggs now. I did catch a grasshopper warbler, reed warbler and a low-flying swallow.


Fridays double-dip was partly avenged with a pair of glossy ibis dropping briefly onto the Budge fields (thanks for the call Alan G!) just next to one of my nets. These birds had previously been at Newton-by-the-Sea, after calling at Druridge they made their way via Whitburn and Hartlepool to Saltholme.  These are the second and third patch glossy ibis - the first being  a long-stayer in 2011. The great-white egret that has been around for ten days or so was also there.

On Saturday evening there were six ruff on the Budge fields - five males displaying with full ruffs to a reeve. I've not seen displaying ruff like this on the Budge fields since the early nineties, it was amazing to see again. Far more exciting than glossy ibis! There was also a first-summer little gull, 16 summer-plumaged sanderling on the beach, my first two manx shearwaters of the campaign, a med gull on the sea and a pair of goosander on the big pool.

On Sunday there was an avocet on the Budge fields, with a handful of dunlin and ringed plover as well as two little gulls.

Bank Holiday Monday brought  little of note, just the usual campers, mini motorbikes and tribes of dog-walkers with out-of-control hounds.

So back to work today...just before lunchtime I come out of a meeting to find a message about a broad-billed sandpiper on the Budge fields - yowzas! The benefits of flexi-time brought an early lunch-break and I was off to Druridge, arriving in already-full little hide behind Stef and Mrs Stef, I had to blag a look through someone's scope as I had no gear with me (thanks Hector!)...and there it was, wandering around between the rush clumps - a very stripy wader indeed! A wood sandpiper and garganey also put in appearance.

I was a very-happy patch watcher, though still smarting from Friday).

The addition of broad-billed sandpiper takes my patch list to 239 species. That and the common rosefinch take the patch list to 261 (there had been an icterine in 1966).

My year list at the end of May stands at 135 and my PWC score is 186.