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.

Monday, 16 May 2016

First ringing session

Finally there are enough leaves on the trees and bushes at Druridge to attempt a ringing session, with light winds and cloud first thing on Sunday morning the weather was ideal. The forecast said the wind would ease further throughout the day and become more cloudy - of course it did the opposite.

It was a good first session though with only three nets up. I caught a good number of warblers including grasshopper, reed and sedge along with willow, whitethroat and blackcap. I had some interesting retraps including a willow warbler first ringed in 2014, a blackcap ringed as an adult in 2013, a blackcap ringed as a juvenile in 2013 and a whitethroat, also from 2013.

A great white egret was found on the Budge fields on Friday morning by Time Dean, I saw it then and saw it again flying north over the big pond as I was ringing. A drake garganey was also on the Budge fields along with a three ruff, two of which had 'ruffs' and smart male yellow wag.

The warm weather had brought a few butterflies out - speckled wood were the most common and I saw my first orange-tip of the year.

This family of Canada geese goslings kept me amused for a while.

At least one of us can manage to stay awake
Pied wagtail
Still a few wigeon about - Mrs wigeon
Mr Wigeon

Sunday, 8 May 2016

Should've stayed at home

On Saturday I went down to Villa Park to cheer on the Toon to what should have been a straightforward three-points. Nothing is straightforward with Toon and we came home with a draw, which probably means Championship football next season. I should've stayed at home and gone birding on the patch.

Since my last blog post, I have had a couple of quick visits to the patch, adding a handful of summer migrants to the year-list including common tern, arctic tern, house martin, puffin and swift.

I had an evening visit to the patch today to do the WeBS count having spent the morning checking nestboxes. Wintering duck have all but gone with only two teal and four wigeon. The highlight from the WeBS count was 12 whimbrel on the Budge fields and a great-crested grebe still hanging around the big pool.

No lapwing chicks to report yet, but there are plenty of birds sitting on eggs, I guess the winter conditions we had for the best-part of two weeks put them back a bit. There is also an oystercatcher on eggs - a very rare breeder at Druridge.

Sedge warbler was the only new bird for the year - and there were plenty of them, at least five singing males between the Budge screen and the Oddie hide.

Offshore there were plenty of terns and 12 red-throated divers in a range of plumages including some in full-breeding garb.

There were two mallard brood on the big pool, one of two and another of six.

This little chap got left behind
Mum with family

Monday, 2 May 2016

At last... a change in the weather

This weekend brought a change in the weather,  something more resembling the spring-like conditions we should be expecting. That-said there were some vicious hail storms coming through until this evening.

Leading up until Sunday, conditions were decidedly wintery and not conducive to birding or I am sure, for our newly arrived migrants, a bit of a shock!

Snow storm approaching
The conditions, alongside an important football match to attend meant little time for birding the patch, although the Bank Holiday Monday gave me an opportunity today. The two visits that I did manage brought a little flurry of species that were new for the year. Yesterday I saw fulmar, sandwich tern, ringed plover and grasshopper warbler (one reeling by the path to the hides last night) and today brought whimbrel (several flying over and eight coming in to land ahead of a hail storm), goosander and whitethroat.

There was a pair of red-breasted merganser on the big pool. Sadly the goosander was distant and in direct sunshine.

Red-breasted merganser pair
Drake red-breasted merganser having a stretch
This white wagtail was on the Budge fields - apologies for the heavily cropped pic.

White wagtail  - apologies for the heavily cropped pic

Finally, we had interesting news of a ringing recovery this week. A first-winter male siskin that we caught at Druridge on 16th November 2014, our last ringing session of that year, was caught by ringers in Warsop in Nottinghamshire on April 9th. A distance of 228 kilometres.

My year list now stands at 116 species.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

A Changing Landscape

Only one visit to the patch this weekend - Saturday was spent watching the Toon get three points, too little, too late I fear.

So today wasn't an early start. I checked the dunes from the haul road first - there is a nice little flash pool holding water again on the northern boundary of the patch, just along the haul road towards to East Chevington. If it doesn't dry up this week, it will be worth checking for waders. There were only two gadwall on it today.

Under construction
The new wind turbines have been delivered this week for the wind farm next to the inland sea at Widdrington. Now I am not anti-wind farm, as long as they are in the right place. This place would have been okay had the opencast mine not left behind a massive pond that would obviously, and has, attracted birds. Not much thought or planning gone into either scheme which results in nature losing out again.

It will certainly change the landscape of the patch - I will try to get down more often and document their construction.

Back to birding, with my back to the new wind farm. There was a steady swallow passage with a bird headed north every minute or so along the dunes whilst I was there. There was very little on the sea other than a handful of red-throated divers - some of which were sporting their summer garb. Strings of gannets heading north on the horizon were a welcome year-tick. No terns were in the bay.

A willow warbler was singing by the car when I headed to the Budge screen, with another by the screen hide.

Jonathon Farooqi had been to the Budge before me and reported an adult little gull. I couldn't find it, but did see the three ruff and four black-tailed godwits that he had also reported. There was a second-summer med gull amongst the black headed gulls.

Patch year list 109
PWC Points 139