Sunday, 26 July 2015

Hard Graft

Not much to report this week. A couple of short visits to the patch produced little of note other than some rather smart summer-plumaged sanderlings on the beach.

Today I spent the morning at Druridge before the rain arrived. First I checked the Budge fields where a common sandpiper on the mud was year-tick, it was accompanied by a couple of juvenile dunlin, a few snipe and a handful of lapwing...oh and two yellow wagtails.

To the dunes - There was some kind of co-ordinated cetacean watch this weekend, which saw Neil and Andrea Anderson and Tom an Muriel Cadwallender spending most of the weekend sat at Snab Point slowly freezing to death. So I thought I would have a quick look in the Bay to see if there were dolphins and amazingly there was - a pod of bottlenose dolphins about half way out.

A call to Tom confirmed that they had already seen these beasts heading north passed Snab. The dolphins were very active, breaching regularly with some getting out of the water altogether, performing pirouettes. They swam pretty quickly north and were soon just specks heading towards Coquet Island.

Excitement over, I headed for the Little hide where the same common sandpiper or a different one was on the mud. Buzzards circled the far shelterbelt and a little owl was perched on the farm buildings.

I couldn't see much from the Oddie hide as the grass was so high in front of the shutters. Nothing else for it - I trooped back to the car and got my trusty grass-knife and went back to cut the grass. What seemed like a good idea at the start seemed less-good when I had only done about half the job and I had blisters on my hand and was knackered - not used to hard graft.

I persevered and eventually had the whole lot cut. I headed off, hand bleeding, to the Country Barn for a well-deserved pasty. I hope the photographers will thank me when the mega yank or eastern wader turns up this week.



134 Common sandpiper

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Wader clear-out

I was down on the patch a couple of times today having only managed one visit during the week, on Thursday. There were 18 black-tailed godwits and a ruff of note on the Budge fields.

Today however there weren't many waders at all, just a few curlew and lapwing. There were lots of butterflies out in the sunshine this morning, but trying to photograph them was very difficult due to the strong westerly wind. 

There were as many dark-green fritillaries as I have ever seen, well into double-figures. This one was in the dunes, a crap photo, but I liked the detail of its eyes.

worn dark-green fritillary on thistle - open for detail
ringlet on yarrow
Also on the wing were lots of ringlets, meadow brown, common blue, small copper, wall, red admiral, speckled wood, small tortoiseshell and small skipper...

There were also lots of burnet moths on the newly-in-flower ragwort. All of the burnets I photographed were narrow-bordered five-spot burnet moths. 

narrow-bordered five-spot burnet moth on ragwort
Whilst photographing butterflies in the dunes, I heard such a commotion - high-pitched squawking followed by people shouting. I looked up to see a springer spaniel, off the lead, scattering a family party of grey partridge left, right and centre. The owners were obviously concerned at the noise the young partridges were making and desperately tried to get the offending dog back. They had absolutely no control over it whatsoever.

The offenders with the dog back on the lead
They turned around when they saw me taking their photo.  I caught up with them later and the springer was still off the lead. I pointed out the error of their ways and signs asking people to keep their dogs on a lead during the breeding season and gave them a leaflet about taking dogs to the coast. Shortly after, two different women appeared with another springer doing exactly the same thing. 

These soldier beetles were clearly enjoying the summer sunshine!

Soldier beetles
This evening I had a look on the sea, the tide was out but the light was nice. The scoter flock has now built up to about 600 birds and they were really close inshore. I went through them a couple of times, but could only see common scoters - July is a good month for surfies! Five juvenile type goosanders flew north.

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Blackcap - To Biarritz...and back!

I've got some really interesting news of a returning blackcap, but first a round-up of the weekend on the patch.

On Friday evening there, autumn wader passage was underway with a greenshank and ruff on the Budge fields, an avocet and a single black-tailed godwit were also present and an adult little egret was feeding.

Adult little egret feeding on Budge fields
A grasshopper warbler was 'reeling' from the umbellifers on the dune-back opposite the path to the Budge screen - it was still reeling today from 5am to midday!

Offshore, there were at least five roseate terns fishing, which isn't surprising given that there are over 100 pairs nesting on nearby Coquet Island. I also saw my first Arctic skua of the year, harrying the terns.

Red admiral
There are a lot more butterflies on the wing now that summer has arrived. Ringlet, small skipper, meadow brown, wall, red admiral, small tortoiseshell, speckled wood were all seen and,today, my first dark-green fritillaries of the year.

As it rained for much of yesterday morning, I put my patch-visit off until the evening. On the edge of the patch, between Bell's farm and the plantation, I stopped to watch some swift passage - a steady stream of these early migrants headed south. Whilst scanning them, a strikingly dark swallow flew past me. I watched it for while, it was male, but the underparts were much more chestnut/orange than any other barn swallow I've seen. It almost reminded me of the North American race, but it had a good, dark breast-band. It was certainly a striking bird, but I don't think it was anything other than a darker than average rustica.

A 'bog-standard' swallow taking a feather to line it's nest
On the Budge fields there were 28 black-tailed godwit and yesterdays ruff and a new ringed plover. A male marsh harrier flew in and started hunting over the Budge field, scattering some duck and lapwings.

male marsh harrier hunting over the Budge fields
Also of note were five large shoveler youngsters. I've seen this on previous years at Druridge, where a female shoveler will turn up late in the summer with well-grown young. I am not sure if these birds were capable of flight, but they were nearing adult size, so they probably were.

Today, I got up early and put some nets up to ring birds. I didn't catch much, I presume a lot of the warblers are sat tight on second broods. I caught 14 new birds, all but two of which were juveniles. I would have expected to have caught more young warblers (I caught two backcaps and a chiffchaff), I think the prolonged cold spring and erratic storms may have done for some first broods.

Between net-rounds I had a scan from the dunes and picked up a small falcon flying west. I automatically assumed it would be a kestrel, but when I put my bins on it I was surprised to see a fine adult hobby. It had a small bird of some species in its talons (maybe a sand martin, there were a lot of them), it continued west over the bushes and turned south with it's prey, maybe looking for somewhere suitable to deal with it?

So, to the story of the blackcap. I retrapped a female breeding blackcap today, which we ringed as a juvenile last year. This got me thinking about thinking about the blackcap that we ringed that ended up in France (read the story here ) and whether it may have come back, so I checked our retraps for the year and it has!

Y540945 was ringed as a juvenile male on the 27th August by me and James Common, we caught it again on the 5th September. On 25th September it was caught by a ringer 1251km in Landes near Biarritz in France.

Looking at our retraps for this year I discovered that Y540945 has returned! I caught it on 9th June as breeding male. This is the first time we have ever had a long-distance migrant trapped elsewhere other than Druridge, return to our site. Isn't migration amazing!

130 greenshank
131 Arctic skua
132 hobby

Monday, 29 June 2015

Light nights

These long, light nights leave little time for updating my blog, so I apologise for the lack of activity lately.

I have also discovered another way to waste my valuable time - Flickr. I have started uploading photos from various trips on my new Flickr page - have a  look at

As spring is over and autumn has yet to start, birding on the patch has been slow. I've tried a couple of sea-watches and managed to add roseate tern to the patch year list, but nothing else. With over 80 pairs on Coquet Island, it was just a matter of time.  There were two harbour porpoise in the bay tonight.

The Budge fields are still proving popular with black-tailed godwits, there were 28 there tonight. No other migrant waders were noted over the last week though. The two curlew chicks are still alive and well and getting bigger, their bills are lengthening too.

I saw a colour-ringed little egret on the big last weekend. You can see from the record-shot below that it has a yellow ring with a black 'T' on the left tibia and a red ring with a white 'F' on the left tibia. has anyone else seen this bird around?

I saw my first patch-grasshopper warbler of the year tonight, it was reeling in some umbellifers  on the edge of the dunes. This species seems to be a bit boom-and-bust at Druridge in recent years.

Monday, 15 June 2015

Busy Week

I've had a week off work but have been to busy to update the blog. I've had two friends from Malta, Ian and Edward, visiting on a birdwatching trip. They came with a list of target species, which we managed to see most of. They also came with beer...

Cisk - the national drink of Malta
I've really enjoyed it, it got me out some places I don't normally get to, even Durham! I'm not keen on crossing the Tyne.

Before they arrived on Tuesday night however, I managed some time on the patch. On Monday, I spent the morning at Druridge, highlights were an increase in the number of sedge warblers, a male sparrowhawk and a stock dove. Prompted by reports of Manx shearwaters elsewhere, I had a look on the sea and in 50 minutes had 122 manxies go north, including a flock of about 70 birds, not strung out like manxies usually are, these were in a tight flock.

When I got home and checked my email, someone had reported, via my blog, that they had seen and heard a marsh warbler singing in the bushes by the entrance. I headed back to check it out, when I got there, a warbler was singing at the back of the bushes, it wasn't sedge and there was some mimicry, but it was muffled. A few folk stopped by and as the bird made its way forward and the song become more audible, we all agreed it was just a reed warbler - in marsh warbler habitat. Worth checking out though.

The two drake mandarin were still on the Budge fields as was a pair of yellow wagtails.

On Tuesday, I put some nets up and ringed some birds. The increase in sedge warblers was evidenced further as I caught five of them. Worryingly, I only caught four juvenile birds, two tree sparrows and two chaffinches. I think the harsh weather of late did for the breeding attempts of many small birds. There were 24 black-tailed godwit on the Budge fields.

On Wednesday we went to the Farne Islands, it goes without saying how much two birders from Malta would enjoy the Farnes experience. Roseate tern was top of the wish list, we saw four near the jetty.

Ian gets the traditional Farnes welcome

grey seal

Arctic tern

Obviously these fellas were popular

Not a black and white photo, black and white birds on white rocks

Room for a small one?

You can't see me? Puffin hiding from black-headed gull trying to steal its catch
We rounded the day off with a visit to the Long Nanny and Low Newton scrapes.

Arctic tern at the Long Nanny
On Thursday, Janet was in charge and we went down to the North Pennines. Red and black grouse were the targets here and we weren't disappointed. We finished the day at RSPB Salthome, the first time I have been since RSPB tarted it up.

On Friday we walked up to East Chevington from Druridge, grasshopper warbler was our target species. We were checking the bridge area out when Dave called to say he had one reeling to the north, we were off and the Maltese boys were soon enjoying great views of a singing gropper. Edward had all five of his targets in the bag.

Whitethroat at East Chevington
Back to the patch, there were 33 islandica black-tailed godwits on the Budge fields. There were also two curlew chicks, which is very significant. I have never recorded curlew as breeding on the site, I am waiting to hear if it is a new record for the site.

One of the curlew chicks, heavily cropped
One of the proud parents
 After breakfast we headed out a 'Puffin Cruise' from Amble to see more roseys.

Roseate terns 'urn the jurb
We sauntered back down the coast via Warkworth, East Chev, Cresswell and finished at Snab Point with red-throated diver, manx shearwaters, harbour porpoise and an arctic skua.

Saturday morning took us back to Druridge where we had a cuckoo, which was a welcome year-tick for me. We then went to Warkworth lane for yellowhammer and on to the airport via Bothal and Scotch Gill Woods, dipping marsh tit. Both Ian and Edward had a great time, Edward got all five of his targets and Ian saw 19 new species. We saw 117 species in three and a half days, all but four of them in Northumberland.

It's hard work guiding people,  I was exhausted on Saturday night, but had thoroughly enjoyed the three days. I had a quick look at the patch this morning, once the rain had stopped. No new migrants had dropped in (it's a bit late now...) but Saturdays cuckoo was still present.

126 Manx Shearwater
127 Cuckoo

Friday, 5 June 2015

Gull watching

The wind moved into the South-east this afternoon and increased in strength to force 3-4. It was high-tide when I arrived at Druridge this evening and they are quite big tides with the full moon, which meant that the gulls would be close tot he dunes, so I decided on a bit of gull photography.

99% of the birds passing close were going south and 99% of them were black-headed gulls. I took lots of shots, most of which I have binned.

Three different black-headed gulls
I picked up on Mediterranean gull, a first-summer headed south.

Two views of the same first-summer Med gull
Big gulls were few and far between, I managed a shot of this first-summer great black-backed, though I willing to be corrected on this one... more practice needed.

First-summer great black-backed gull (I think)
125 Mediterranean gull

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Twitching and patch oddities.

The undoubted ornithological highlight this week, possibly the year, was off-patch. A black-winged pratincole was found yesterday afternoon by Dave and Bob Dack at Bothal Pond.
black-winged pratincole at Bothal Pond
A new bird for me, anywhere in the world, it showed terrifically well, flying regularly back and forth over the pond. It didn't come too close to the southern shore so this is the best photo I managed. A cracking bird though, so cracking I spent over two hours watching it.

Back on the patch, on Wednesday morning two mandarin ducks and a barnacle goose were reported on the Budge fields. I had to drive past Druridge, so took my lunch-break on the patch, catching up with both species. Since my first patch mandarin in June 2012, I've recorded the species in three out four years. Odd timing for a barnacle goose, maybe it had decided not to make the trip back north?

There was also two garganey and a little ringed plover of note.

On Thursday a male ruff was present and it was joined by a second today along with a black-tailed godwit and the two drake mandarins.