Sunday, July 21, 2019

Patch List Catch up...

I haven't done a patch birding update since May, so here goes so far...

After the excitement of Baikal Teal and Baillons Crake in the county, it was back to patch watching in earnest. We always start the year full of vim and vigour but this often deteriorates as the summer arrivals peter out. On a North east coastal patch however, as mid summer beds in, things are only just starting to warm up. We are full of hopes and aspirations of what the return migrations season will be like. Willw e get any fall conditions? Will there be any rare birds? Will the sea watching be classic year? Or, will it all just be a damp squib...that remains to be seen, but a few decent species have been added to the local list since spring...

126. Quail. On 9th June as I stepped out onto our drive, the distinctive 'Whit, whit whit' call sounded only 30 yards into the field but could easily have been in the next field such is the skill in voice throwing that these birds exhibit. It remained until 22nd June when we came back from our Suffolk holiday.

127. In the quiet doldrums of mid summer living near the coast can have its advantages...see here for details on what happened next.

128. On the same crazy seawatch Arctic Tern was added...

129...and Common Sandpipers had already began moving to the coast on 2nd July after breeding.

130. Arctic Skua. After packing up on another seawatch on 7th July a dark phase adult came so close it was almost touchable just over our heads and away north.

131. Later in the afternoon on 7th July, I walked down to the coast patch just to scan for terns and waders and was pleased to see two birds not far out moving north. As I locked on to them one was a Whimbrel and the other, scarcer here, a Bar-tailed Godwit....

132 / 133. The sea is the way to lift the flagging list from now onwards and the hour spent on the 14th July was no different with Little Gull and Common Tern added. The Little Gulls were two birds, one a lovely sooty underwinged adult and a more typical first summer.

134. The most difficult of the breeding terns here, 4 Little Terns flew south just offshore this afternoon as I walked Peggy...

So, 9 year ticks and one a lifer who says mid summer is quiet for birding! With real autumn just around the corner, I am sure there is time to slot in a few more missing common species...a Dunlin or Sanderling wouldnt go amiss...


Tuesday, July 02, 2019

Giant Patch Tick!

What a bizarre evening that was.

I was driving home from work when I had a phone call from Gary Woodburn who said the incomprehensible news that Mark Newsome has just had a Giant Petrel fly north at Whitburn.

A what? Giant Petrel? Are they not the things that kill penguins on Blue Planet? In the North Sea?

It was a dark phased bird with a massive white bill.

Giant Petrel has two species, they are Southern and Northern and are incridibly difficult to identify let alone on a fly past at a kilometre range...

Gary was going to wait for news from seawatchers further south and then head to Newton Point. I had already considered a seawatch, as the high pressure out in the Atlantic looked good for a movement of shearwaters and there are a few terns I still haven't had on the patch year list so this news prompted me even more. Gardening would have to wait...

Straight home, changed, snacks and tea packed and out to Cullernose Point by 6.55pm. I was perched halfway down the cliff on a lovely summer evening. The sea was alive with auks, buzzing back and forth in small flocks, razorbills, guiilemots and many puffins. To a back drop of calling kittiwakes on the cliff, whats not to like.

Snacks eaten, tea drunk, and the first 50 Manx Shearwaters were logged. I was studying a winter plumaged diver on the sea that was very Black throated like but just too ar to confirm, when I was joined by Mark Eaton to look seaward. Seeing anyone here is unusual so company and in particular another set of birding eyes was welcome.

The diver was analysed,and I still think Black throated, complete with 'cobra-like' nape shape but its not inked into the notebook.

We commented on how good the visibilty was, Highish up with a flattish sea we could pick out puffins atalmost 2 kms, and at 1 km an 8 inch bird was easily identified, so a 3 foot long, black albatross should be no trouble to connect with, if only...

News came through that a good candidate was seen very distantly at the horizon from St Mary's Island. Ho hum, it was a nice night.

Then a slow motion, quiet, tenseness came as I scanned south from a distant oil tanker when all of a sudden, a huge, black apparition loomed up from the waves and I called to Mark ' There's your Petrel!' scarcely believeing my own words. A short 10 second panic ensued while I stammered out directions, but luckily the oil tanker came in handy as a marker and seen at three quarter distance Mark was on the bird.

The GIANT PETREL, flapped on elastic wing beats, giving the impression of one of those big Fruit Bats or Flying Foxes rather than a bird. It soared and glided seemed too heavy to shear in the calm conditions. This continued for 10 minutes and once it switchbacked south briefly before getting back on track North. We watched as it passed Gannets, Manxies and flocks of auks looking like nothing I've ever seen. The wing tips seemed a bit rounded or ragged maybe giving an 'eagley' look at times, then on down glides it vanished into wave troughs before towering back above the horizon line. it lookd darker than a Sooty Shear but it was the size and jizz that were unmistakeable.

What a bird. It slowly vanished from view. Word was put out by Mark as I had no signal at all and the enormity of the sighting sank in. I was trembling a little bit...

That was certainly some start to the seawatching season...

Oh and even though it cant be identified to a species, I'm having it on my lists!