Sunday, 16 August 2015

Quiet start to the Autumn

Autumn has started quietly on the patch. On Wednesday I put some nets up for a ringing session. I caught a mixture of adult and juvenile warblers (chiffchaff, willow and sedge warblers, blackcap), which I presume were all local birds as nothing was carrying any fat. I also caught a grasshopper warbler, a female with the remains of a brood patch, very close to where a male was singing for a few nights four weeks ago. A bullfinch was calling nearby but I didn't catch it.

I also caught a few robins, wrens, a chaffinch and a tree sparrow. I watched a stunning juvenile marsh harrier flying over the Budge fields, right in front of the little hide - no photographers at that hour!

I spent some time on the patch today. A Saturday night out at the Cluny meant it wasn't an early start. I think all of the birds were asleep by the time I arrived.

Little grebe - asleep
Mute swan  - asleep
This common gull must have had no 'craic' as the black-headed gull was obviously bored
There were three juvenile ruff and black-tailed godwit (which was also asleep for much of the time) from the little hide and two common sandpipers on the far bank of the big pool.

There were a few 'wheeting' phylloscs in the bushes and a family of four juvvy blackcaps. I checked the fences and bushes at the north end for whinchats but none were found. I photographed some insects as there were no birds about.

Lime-speck Pug on wield

Noon fly or Noonday fly on knapweed
I headed back to the patch this evening, hoping the high-tide might have pushed some waders off their usual haunts. Six oystercatchers and five turnstones flew south, but not the hoped-for knot or grey plover. Three red-throated divers were on the sea - they were asleep too!

Sunday, 9 August 2015


Not much to report, spent the weekend pointing brickwork and watching football, but before all of that we went to Druridge on Friday night to try and catch storm petrels.

We set the nets up on the beach at by 11pm and had caught two bird by 11.40, one new bird and a control. By 1230 a big, bright half-moon appeared on the horizon and the mini-rave/beach party further up the shore was louder than our set-up so we packed in and went home.

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Under the weather

What is going on with the weather this Summer? Even  the forecasters can't get a thing right.

Last night, I checked all of my usual sources of weather information and it all looked good for putting some nets up this morning. Based on this research I got up at 4.30 and headed to Druridge and got some nets up, no wind, hazy sunshine and the weather forecast still saying no rain. First net round done and it starts to rain... light but persistent. Nets furled.

A quick check of the Rain Alarm app showed rain heading our way for a considerable time...Nets down.

I did manage to catch some juvenile willow warblers and adult sedge warbler, willow warblers and a whitethtoat. The sedge warbler was quite fat, looking like it was on its way south.

Back at home drying me and the nets, I got a message from Jonathon to say he was watching a green sandpiper from the little hide. I do like a green sandpiper and it is a species that can be missed at Druridge so I headed down for a gander. It was wandering around the mud in front of the hide with a common sandpiper, an adult dunlin in summer plumage was lurking in the wings.

On Thursday evening I had a 45 minute seawatch, the highlight of which was a single sooty shearwater heading north about half-way-out. Other totals - 42 manx shearwater, two arctic skuas, one goosander,  two Med gulls and 15 common scoter north.

On Friday evening there was a common sandpiper and a yellow wagtail on the Budge fields and a whimbrel flew south, calling. Offshore, four arctic skuas, including a stunning pale-phase bird with huge white flashes in the wings, were loitering in the bay, parasitising terns. A few red-throated divers have returned and are still looking smart in their summer garb.

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.