Sunday, 22 November 2015

From the north

The wind came right out of the north on Friday and through to today, bringing a blast of  proper winter weather after a spell of unseasonably mild weather of late.

The northerly had come from way up north - classic weather to bring some northern specialities down, so obviously a seawatch was in order.

I timed my seawatch with the rising tide, giving me more chance to get some good waders pushed off the rocks by the advancing tide. It was bitterly cold, but as the wind had swung around out of the NNW I managed to find a little shelter in the dunes.

No sooner had I set up my scope when I had the first of many little auks headed north. There was a steady passage of these fantastic little birds throughout the morning. Mostly in small groups, all headed north. Many were very close in, flying between the breaking waves on the shore. At one point I had a 'mixed flock' of two purple sandpipers, two dunlin and two little auk flying up the shore.

It was great to get purple sandpiper on the list for the year, the light was nice so they really stood out from the dunlin.

Other highlights were two great northern divers (sadly no black-throated passed me), an adult little gull flying south, two groups of three long-tailed duck, two velvet scoter and a drake scaup. A flock of 25 twite flew north along the dunes.

Seawatching totals 1120-1250:

little auk 173
goldeneye 24
cormorant 2
little gull 1 (S)
guillemot 34
red-throated diver 3
dunlin 6
long-tailed duck 6
wigeon 49
red-breasted merganser 3
great northern diver 2
pale-bellied brent 3
velvet scoter 2
purple sandpiper 4
kittiwake 80+
common gull 10+
scaup 1
pintail 1
twite 25

Today I had to work, but popped down to Druridge for the last of the light at 3pm. I intended on doing a seawatch but the light was nice and there was some close-by gulls so I did some gull photography instead.

Between gulls I did note long strings of kittiwakes  headed north and some sizeable stings of guillemot. There were a few little auks, but nothing like yesterday and a couple of RTD.

Adult common gull

First-winter herring gull 
Arty gull photo
Second-winter great-black-backed gull. Check out the obvious white tip to the bill
Snowy sky over Cresswell - I'm pleased it missed me!
Nice wintry sky at dusk
Pink-footed geese coming in at sunset
 My seawatch brought me a little haul of year-ticks - brent goose, scaup and purple sandpiper (my first on the patch for six years!) taking my total to 159 which is well down on the last few years. Still a chance of one or two more species before New Year...

Sunday, 15 November 2015

Forecasters wrong again...

The weather forecasters got their predictions wrong for this weekend. Heavy rain from yesterday lunchtime (it rained at 4pm) which would last until the early hours of Monday. It rained over-night but there's hardly been a drop since.

Even our local WeBS organiser sent an advisory message out yesterday to recorders not to take risks in the weather. The only risk today came from wearing too many layers and over-heating. Light winds increased but it was 15 degrees C, dry, and quite pleasant.

Perfect weather for WeBS counting. Whilst I was counting from the Budge screen, a couple arrived and we chatted about the long-billed dowitcher that has been at Cresswell (and briefly at Druridge...grrr) for the last few days. They told me the tale of seeing it two weeks ago on the Budge fields but weren't confident of the identification (they knew it was something different), so they didn't say anything.

I encouraged them, that if they should find anything 'different' again, to let someone know. We all get things wrong, me especially, and we are always learning. That bird could have easily moved on and nobody would have seen it, let alone at Druridge.

My disappointment was soon gone when I picked up a female merlin sat out on the Budge field, it seemed to pull apart some prey before flying over and landing on a post for a while. My first merlin at Druridge for a long while.

Shortly after that a splendid short-eared owl put on a good show for us, quartering the fields in front of the hide. It was also right next to the path when I went to the Oddie hide - of course I had left my camera behind because of the forecast of rain. 29 whooper swan flew south.

Four pochard were still on the big pool (I saw them yesterday). My first record of pochard this year, they are certainly very uncommon at Druridge nowadays.

Yesterday I walked back along the beach, looking for snow buntings, which I didn't see. I did see a swallow though, a male, feeding over the dunes and beach. There were still plenty of insects about in this spell of warm weather. November 14th is very late for swallow and is my latest patch sighting. I have had a later 'Druridge Bay' record with one on 4th December many years ago, flying north at Chibburn Mouth.

Pochard and merlin put me on 156 for the year, which is very disappointing. If I don't see anything else new, this will be my worst year on the patch since 2012 and my second-worst since 2005. There are still some possibilities - snow bunting, white-fronted goose, brent goose, black redstart, bullfinch, red-legged partridge...maybe even the dowitcher will come back. That would be nice!

Monday, 2 November 2015

Feels like summer

Yesterday I spent pretty-much all of the daylight hours on the patch and what splendid daylight hours they were. Warm and sunny with light variable winds, it may have touched 20 degrees in the afternoon.

We were ringing for most of the day and it was so warm I was in a T-shirt for much of the November.

It was soon apparent that the influx of thrushes had quickly passed inland, no redwings or fieldfares to be seen. There were plenty of blackbirds and we ringed a single song thrush. Most of the blackbirds were continental birds, the adult females a nice grey colour and many with longer wings than our resident birds. Some of the blackbirds were carrying a lot of fat - they were on the move.

As well as blackbirds we caught a lot of goldfinches and siskins which are taking advantage the abundance of seeds this year. The siskins are especially liking the alder cones.

We caught a single brambling, a nice first-year male. This is the first brambling we have caught since 2006 at Druridge.

We caught 95 birds of 17 species by the end of the day. The increase in the population of tree sparrows in the area around Druridge and generally in Northumberland means we are catching more of these beautiful birds.

Tree sparrow
Also of note was a late chiffchaff, not a 'sibe' this one, a typical yellowy-green collybita. It was also carrying a lot of fat, it weighed over 11g.

We also caught a female chaffinch that we ringed way back in August 2009 in its first year, odd that we haven't caught between then and now. Six and-a-bit is a good age for a chaffinch.

Early in the morning we watched a short-eared owl being mobbed by passerines over the Budge fields. In the afternoon a peregrine passed through and a large female sparrowhawk was seen chasing blackbirds through the bushes.

 A brief seawatch after the nets had been put away produced two drake velvet scoter on the sea and a handful of red-throated divers.

Sunday, 25 October 2015


A combination of man-flu and work meant no patch birding for Ipin this weekend :-(

And now the clocks have changed, my patch efforts will be confined to weekends until March...

Sunday, 11 October 2015

Goldcrests and spiders

I was contemplating catching up with some chores around the house late morning when reports came in of birds arriving at coastal spots -firecrests, ring ouzels, Lapland buntings and more yellow-browed warblers... The chores could wait.

Arriving at 1145, I checked the plantation, plenty of goldcrests but little else and then wandered up through the bushes. There were small parties of goldcrests everywhere, some mixed in with a tit flock, some on their own. I checked them all for firecrests, yellow-brows or even an early Pallas's warbler but to no avail.

My highlight was a single female brambling by the Budge screen.

There are a lot of spiders this year, maybe the mild autumn has helped them? Several webs had been strung across my path by garden spiders. I came across one, setting to work on a newly caught bluebottle and documented (mostly poorly as I had the 100-400mm lens on the camera) the battle that commenced.

A second spider arrives at the battle commences

The two spiders do battle, forgetting about the fly

Losing height, they fall to the ground
Meanwhile the poor fly is left dangling
The victor climbs back up the web to deal with his prize
starting to wrap the fly
The fly puts a brave fight 
Which pays off as it manages to struggle free and fly off, leaving the garden spider with nothing

 Such is life...

Another garden spider which caught my eye
148 Brambling

Saturday, 10 October 2015


The weather forecast predicted light winds this morning, but it didn't mention thick fog, which Druridge Bay was cloaked in for most of the day.

Luckily,  it was the 'dry' type of fog, not a wetting fog which makes ringing impossible as the nets and therefore the birds, get wet.

So, dry fog and no wind, meant good ringing conditions.

As I was putting the last of the three nets up that we were going to sue, I flushed a long-eared owl for the nearby bushes, it flew off, silently...

Our first net-round only yielded a couple of birds, both retraps, until we checked the last net. The long-eared owl had obviously returned to its roosting spot and was now in the net, quickly extracted, we returned to the car to ring it.
Long-eared Owl

Fantastic eyes! - click for bigger image

Long-eared owls can be sexed quite easily, this was a female, told by having less white about the face and the 'ground' colour of the underparts being more buff than white. This bird was in active moult, growing a new fourth primary feather on both wings, making it at least a 2nd calender year bird.

This is the third long-eared owl we have caught over the years at Druridge, the last one was last year, a breeding female, which was sadly found dead by a member of the public only 12 days later.

After the excitement of the long-eared owl, we continued to catch steadily throughout the morning until the fog lifted and wind picked up in the early afternoon.

It was obvious that the last two dry and sunny days had encouraged the migrants that had arrived on Tuesday and Wednesday, particularly the thrushes, to move on. We caught 40 birds in total, the only warblers were blackcaps of which there four, three juveniles and a retrapped resident female that we ringed with a brood-patch in August.

 This is a male Blackcap, told by the black crown, but you can still see some of the brown juvenile feathering in the crown.
Three goldcrests and a song thrush were 'passage' birds. We also caught 12 of the huge goldfinch flock that is hanging around Druridge, making the most of the bumper thistle crop, there are a few lesser redpolls in the finch flock and we caught two of them.

Whilst putting up the nets first-thing, a yellow-browed warbler was calling but was not relocated and later a couple of great-spotted woodpeckers put in an appearance by the car.

Throughout the morning, at least until 11am, there was a virtually constant sound of pink-footed geese flying over. Mostly, they appeared to be going south, but we couldn't see them for the fog, some of the groups sounded quite numerous.

Sunday, 4 October 2015

Ringing session

I've got lots of things going on at the minute so I am finding difficult too get our birding never mind finding time to update my blog. This lack of time means that I still haven't seen yellow-browed warbler on the patch this autumn, there's been plenty of them!

I did find the time for a ringing session today. The weather has been great for ringing the whole week and it has been really frustrating not being able to get out, so it was good to get a session in today.

It was calm and cloudy this morning with no fog or heavy dew like previous mornings, it was nice not have to wear waterproof trousers all day. The wind has been out of the east, but the calm, dry conditions hasn't dropped any migrants onto the east coast, other than the yellow-browed warblers.

goldcrest (male)
We caught a few migrants including song thrushes, robins, chiffchaffs, a blackcap and a few goldcrests. We caught some of the huge goldfinch flock that is moving around Druridge at the moment (which also contains greenfiches, siskins, redpolls and linnets) and a tit flock.

A first autumn male reed bunting with a ring on it was interesting as it wasn't one of our rings, a quick check with Ian Fisher confirmed that he had ringed as a juvenile at East Chevington back in August.

Reed bunting from East Chevington
Whilst ringing there was a few small skeins of pink-footed geese, mostly headed south and group of five barnacle geese headed north. A couple of vocal mistle thrushes were noted, a proper autumn bird on the patch.

At least two different yellow-browed warblers had been seen, one by a visiting birder just off the track to the Oddie hide and Jonathon Farooqi had found on in the plantation.

The forecast for the week ahead is interesting with some rain and south-easterly winds and then the tail end of hurricane Joaquin may or may not come our way.