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

Sunday, 10 April 2016

Arriving, departing or just passing through

I like this time of year - birds are on the move. I am fascinated by migration and at this time of year we have birds arriving, freshly returned from their wintering areas in Europe or Africa. We have birds that have spent the winter here in Northumberland moving on to breed in continental Europe or high into the Arctic tundra. And we have birds passing through our patch, on their way from wintering grounds to breeding areas - just stopping on their way or flying overhead.

This weekend has seen the arrival of a few summer visitors onto the patch - chiffchaffs are singing, a stunning male yellow wagtail was in the dunes (my earliest Druridge record by four days) - he may of course be just passing through and swallows and sand martins have increased in number. There's a lot more skylarks and meadow pipits around too.

Birds just passing through include wheatears, these early ones will probably be staying in the UK, soon the Greenland race will pass through - headed for much more northerly climes.

Some of the birds leaving us include whooper swans and pink-footed geese - the five remaining whoopers that have been in the front field for the last month or so have gone this afternoon. A skein of 60 pink-foots flew high to the north and about 30 whoopers passed through in the same direction today. Wigeon and teal numbers have decreased rapidly but there are still about 120 curlew in the vicinity of the Pools.

A jack snipe was out in front of the Budge screen this morning, probably its last stopping point before crossing the North Sea as it heads for its breeding grounds. I love jack snipes and this one gave us some great views, watch it bobbing in this video.

Jack Snipe Druridge 100416 from Iain Robson on Vimeo.

There's been a huge influx of black-headed gulls onto the Budge fields this weekend and with them some Mediterranean gulls. For my WeBS count today  I estimated 750 BHGs and there were a minimum of four Meds. Jonathan Farooqi counted a minimum of ten Meds yesterday - easily a patch record.

There'll no doubt be some more arrivals in the next few days, willow warbler is overdue - it will soon be followed by the other warblers from Africa.

Patch year list is 107 species.

Monday, 28 March 2016

More like winter than spring

Maybe it is just because I have just come back from Cuba, but I thought this weekend felt more like winter than spring. Even on Friday, which was certainly the best day of the weekend, it still felt like winter at Druridge and the lack of any migrants reinforced my thinking.

Cuba was excellent - great birding in a really interesting country. Cuban tody stood out as 'bird of the trip'. I will sort some photos and put them on Flickr soon and might even get around to writing a trip report.

Cuban Tody
Good Friday was my first visit back to the patch. It wasn't that good... although I did add a few common species to the year list - meadow pipit, kittiwake, eider, snipe, great crested grebe and oystercatcher. There were still four pintail on the Budge fields, a female scaup on the big pool and seven whooper swans on the front field.

No proper migrants were seen.

Despite the forecast of a southerly airflow for today, the wind was plumb out the north first thing, moving through to a strong and very cold nor'westerly later. Any migrant with thoughts of self preservation will of headed back south. So, I only added lesser black-backed gull to my year list. 

Interestingly, Andy McLucky reported a red kite over the Budge fields this morning  - a long-overdue addition to the Druridge patch list. This takes the patch list (my own sightings with any other published sightings) to 259 species. I've seen 238 of them. I would like to think I will add red kite to my own list this year. I might post a list of the things I haven't seen on here at sometime.

For this year, I am on 99 species. Hopefully I will add something else before the month ends, but unlike most of the birdwatchers in Northumberland, I am back at work tomorrow.

Saturday, 20 February 2016

Long-billed Dowitcher on WeBS count

I did my WeBS count today.

There was a very blustery SSW wind blowing which didn't make counting easy. A lot of birds were seeking shelter behind the tussocks of reed so I have probably under-counted some species.

Whilst counting ducks from the little hide, the curlews and redshanks that had been over by the Budge screen lifted and and settled a bit nearer to me. As I was counting the curlews, a smaller bird shoved its very long bill under it's wing and went to sleep - "that's the dowitcher" I said to myself as there was nobody in the hide.

Curlews counted (53) I came back to the long-billed bird. It was now obscured by sleeping curlews. Patience eventually paid off when the pack reshuffled and the dowitcher was exposed in all its glory - having a bit of a preen.

This is the third time I have seen this bird at Druridge. I am sure it must get up here more often than it is reported. There are definitely less birders getting to Druridge whilst the road up from Cresswell is closed which is no bad thing.

Amongst the wader flock were also two dunlin, two black-tailed godwits and a ruff. There are still about 300 wigeon and 70 teal on the Budge fields.

Away from the WeBS count, there was little to report. The National Trust were having a bush-craft day for kids.

Four whooper swans were in the field in front of the cottages, hanging around the feeding troughs with a couple of mutes and a greylag goose.

Whooper swans - a family party?
Mute swan

Sunday, 7 February 2016


Another very windy day, but at least it was dry.

I didn't have high-hopes for my visit to the patch today, the weather wasn't good and it is February, my least favourite month alongside December.

After an uneventful look on the sea, I headed for the Budge screen, it was really windy, even inside the screen. I had a quick scan through the bins first and to be honest, if it had looked quiet I was just going to go home, but it wasn't. There were lots of waders. About a dozen redshank in front of the hide, with more over the back, 30 or more curlew and over 100 lapwing - more waders than usual. I picked out a squat, grey bird among the lapwing so got the scope out - the wind was making viewing difficult though.

The grey wader was a knot - a scarce bird on the patch, usually only picked up as fly-over or in a group offshore during autumn passage. The next bird I got in the scope was even more unexpected - the long-billed dowitcher had left it's usual haunt at Cresswell and come back to the Budge fields. The first time I saw it, on New Year's Eve it was flying off, so it was really nice to get some good views of it as it fed just beyond the water in front of the hide. 

A really strong gust of wind sent all of the waders into the air and the wigeon, that had been grazing, back onto the water. I scanned through the lapwings, curlews and redshank when they resettled but couldn't pick up the dowitcher again, the knot had gone too. I add three black-tailed godwits, two ruff and three dunlin to the tally though, but in the end the wind got the better of me and I headed home.

The dowitcher and knot take the year list to 90 species. As for the Patchwork Challenge, it depends on whether the dowitcher counts as self-found. When I re-found the Cresswell stilt sandpiper on the patch it counted, so I am presuming the same rules apply here.

There were no other birders at Druridge today, I presume the long diversion from Cresswell pond because of the road closure at Hemscotthill is putting them off.

Just outside the patch boundary there are still a couple of hundred fieldfare with lesser numbers of redwing and mistle thrush just of Druridge Lane. I had a scan through them but picked nothing unusual up.

Sunday, 31 January 2016

Close...but no cigar

I'd been down to the patch for a couple of hours this morning before heading home via the Country Barn at Widdrington for a pasty. As I was leaving the farm shop, my phone pinged - a message to say that there were two waxwings on the road north of Druridge - Did this mean the haul road? Not much like waxwing habitat that. I panicked a bit - waxwing would be a new bird for the patch.

I phoned the chap who had put out the message and he explained that the birds were just off Druridge Lane. I was there in seconds, leapt out of the car and was put onto the birds, on a wire over the fields, with a lot of starling and fieldfare - great birds but they nor me were on my patch.

I jumped back into the car and headed for the nearest patch boundary, which is just before High Chibburn Farm. But it was no use, I could hardly see the wires for the high hedge, I took my wellies off and climbed onto the car, extending my tripod as far as it could go, but I couldn't pick out the birds. Frustrated I headed back the original spot, but there was no sign of the birds. I ate my pasty and headed home.

Before all of this kerfuffle, I had spent a pleasant couple of hours on the patch. When I arrived there was a short-eared owl hunting along the grass by the road - nice.

I had a walk south through the bushes. I disturbed a small male sparrowhawk from a  fencepost, it flew off causing alarm amongst the long-tailed tits. When I reached the path to the Budge screen, I disturbed the same bird again, this time off the ground, I went to have a look for a kill and found this...

The kill

Not what I was expecting. A woodcock! The bird was minus its head, but I found both mandibles nearby. The sparrowhawk had already had a decent meal of it, but I do hope it returned to finish its lunch. Woodcock would be no problem for a female sprawk, but quite a big bird to handle for small male like this one.

I still need woodcock for my year list...

As I arrived in the Budge screen, a water pipit took off from the right and flew, calling, a short way before settling down to feed.

There is plenty of wildfowl on the Budge fields, particularly wigeon, teal and mallard. There are also about 350 lapwing and a few curlew. Two drake pintail were still there too.

A quick look offshore produced a year-tick in the form of two razorbills but little else. At the farm, yellowhammer was my second patch year tick of the day.

So at the end of January I am on 88 species netting me 102 points in the Patchwork Challenge - not a bad start, but I think February could be a slow month, although I did see some signs of spring today.

Hawthorn bursting in to leaf

Monday, 25 January 2016

A few new January birds

I've been down to the patch a couple of times post. No photos though, it's just been too dull.

I had a nice dusk visit on 20th, it was nearly dark when I left at 16.15. Highlights were two ruff and eight dunlin on the Budge fields and flock of about 15 fieldfare flying over and into the bushes, quite often a species I have to wait until autumn for.

Standing at the Budge screen, I heard a water pipit calling, but I couldn't find it, I think it was overhead. There were also three drake pintail still present.

On Sunday, I took look one look at the number of people at the Budge screen and gave it a dodge. I had a quick look offshore, but it was very quiet other than a flock of about 40 scoters flying south which included five velvet scoters!

This morning was quite warm, but the strong southerly wind and overcast skies made it feel colder. And there very few people about - which is good.

There are still plenty geese about though. The majority, a flock of over 3000 pink-feet, were over by Low Chibburn somewhere - they lifted and settled gain after a light aircraft flew over. A smaller group of about 350 came down into the fields west of the Budge - there were at least five European white-fronts and five barnacles with them.

I saw three species I wouldn't normally expect in January:

Greenfinch - one on the feeders, a species I wouldn't normally expect until the big post-breeding flocks of finches arrive in late summer - the presence of feeders has dramatically increased the number of finches, tree sparrows and reed buntings overwintering at Druridge.

Shelduck - normally a February arrival (there were two on New Years Eve - not a species I would expect in December at all).

Stock Dove - Two on the Budge fields - again a February/March bird

My other year-tick today was little owl - thanks to Dave Elliott for the tip-off

From the Budge screen, I picked up a very large (must have been female) peregrine sat on a fencepost beyond the Haul Road way over towards Low Chibburn Farm. The drake scaup was still on the big pool.

My year list now stands at 86 species and 99 points for the Patchwork Challenge.