Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Grey days

Yesterday was supposed to be 'Blue Monday' - the gloomiest day of the year. Well, it was certainly gloomy when I arrived on the patch - overcast and misty with drizzly rain setting in. Today wasn't much better but it was my birthday and the day was brightened up with a little bit of sunshine...

On Sunday I did the WeBS count. Not a great variety species on the Budge fields, but plenty of what was there, particularly wigeon and teal with both species numbering over 400. I couldn't see the ruff that has been recently reported.

The big pool was very quiet, a couple of goldeneye and red-breasted mergansers and then I spotted why... two otters were swimming across the pool from east to west. It's ages since I last saw otter on the patch, probably over two years. These two looked the same size and the way that they were playing when they reached the west shore of the pool suggested they were siblings. This might also explain why coot and moorhen aren't on my year list yet.

Coot killers - record shot of the two otters making their way across the big pool.
On the path to the Oddie hide, one of last weeks bullfinches remained and a weasel legged it from one side to the other. 

female bullfinch feeding on dock seeds
Also of note were over 1000 golden plover on the field by the haul road, 30 sanderling, 18 turnstone and 12 ringed plover on the beach and 150 common scoter offshore.

Yesterday was very grey, Janet joined me for a walk through the patch and up to Chibburn mouth to look for the shorelarks as she hadn't seen them. They weren't to be seen (they were reported today) so we walked back along the beach in the mizzle. 

Today was my birthday. I headed out for walk to Chibburn Preceptory and back via High Chibburn and the cottages. The walk was largely uneventful. House sparrow and stock dove were added to the year list at the farm. The highlight came at the end of my walk, just by the cottages, when I found a little flock of yellowhammers with reed bunting in the isolated hawthorn on the roadside. 

Yellowhammer are a very scarce bird on the patch these days, in fact I only saw one in the whole of last year.
A little bit of sunshine to brighten up a grey day
I am doing the Patchwork Challenge again this year - they have a new fancy-dan website, check it out  - http://patchworkchallenge.com/ I am on 71 species and 78 points. 

I've got the rest of the week off work so might get out again between chores...

Sunday, 8 January 2017

New year, new list

Another new year, another year list begins on the patch. I sometimes wonder what is the point of a 'year list' - a date in the calendar by which the list is reset, it could be any date I suppose, but most people stick to the calendar year.

What having a year list does do is give the patch birder some motivation to get our onto the patch in those dark January days. It gives a bit of focus to patch-birding, something to aim for when you know you that you are likely to see one or two new species in a year - if you are lucky!

My 2017 year list got off to a slow start. A trip to Islay for Hogmanay meant it was Saturday 7th before I hit the patch. Islay was great trip, it is a great place with lots of interest for the visiting birder and of course it is famous for its whisky...

So Saturday morning it was and I didn't have much time so I concentrated on the bushes, pools and up onto the haul road - I usually like a walk to out the farm in early January but there wasn't time.

In the plantation I was surprised to see a small flock of goldcrests - I am seeing them more in the winter now, once-upon-a-time they were strictly an autumn species at Druridge. There were also blackbirds, song thrush and mistle thrush in the plantation.

The Budge fields still held plenty of wildfowl including two drake pintail, waders were limited to redshank, curlew and lapwing. A sparrowhawk was perched out on the edge of shelterbelt - my only raptor of the morning and five whooper swan flew south.

Plenty of wigeon on the Budge fields
A siskin was with goldfinches on the path to the Oddie hide and then,ahead of me on the path, I could hardly believe my eyes, three bullfinches! This species is now a patch mega, these were the first partch bullies I Have seen since November 2014.

Out on the haul road, a huge flock of goldfinches, maybe 250, were coming down to bathe in puddles on the road and in the ditch - with them were a few twite, linnet, reed buntings, dunnocks and chaffinches.

Goldfinches bathing in the puddles
One of the chaffinches
In the dunes, a covey of 12 grey partridges were put up by the only other birder I saw (it was birdrace day).

Offshore, the sea was flat calm. There were a couple of shag, ten red-breasted mergansers, a few common scoters and red-throated divers and most excitingly a slavonian grebe - a good January species.

My 2017 year-list now stands at 60 species - not a bad start. Exactly half of the winning tally in the county winter birdrace.

I am doing the Patchwork Challenge again this year and will update my totals as and when.

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Off work but off patch

I've been off work since 23rd for the festivities, but have hardly managed any time on the patch. A walk on the beach in a howling gale on Christmas day and a quick look through the geese yesterday. The look through the geese brought what will be my last addition to the patch list before we head off for New Year - bean goose, my first on the patch since 2010.

I've spent my free time on a project to track turnstones, we have been colour-ringing and radio-tagging them. Working on the birds meant I had no time for photos, but Dave Elliott has some good shots on his blog.

Here are some photos I managed today from the catching site.


Sanderlings in flight 

colour-ringed and tagged turnstone

Turnstone in flight 
Feeding waders

So, my bean goose meant I finished the year on the 174 species for the patch two ahead of any previous year. Omissions from the year list include bullfinch (again), pomarine skua, little auk, grey plover, hobby (seen for last six years) and spoonbill (seen every year bar-one since 2006). I added two new species to the patch list - broad-billed sandpiper in May and Leach's petrel in July. The patch list now stands at 240.

I've been doing the Patchwork Challenge thing again this year - a bit of harmless fun. I am doing okay but can't compete with the Spurn/Easington boys. Here is the latest report from the Coastal North . I've already signed up for the 2017 competition.

It will probably be January 7th before I am back on the patch, so I will take this opportunity to wish you a happy, healthy and bird-filled new year.

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.