Monday, October 29, 2018

Local Patch Listing

The Howick - Craster Patch.
Is there anyone out there? I'll rephrase that. Just because I haven't had a comment since about August, there's no need for sarcasm. What I meant to say was, is there anyone out there with a very poor local patch?

Its a funny thing to ask, but I see loads of people on social media the length and breadth of the country who's local patch is Spurn, Bardsey, Cley or where ever their county hotspot is. Most people have a nature reserve or a large inland water body, or a migration place where many sets of eyes scour it every weekend for the latest 'rare' but I only see a few people with a random place that very few birders visit. Steve Gale at ND&B has one such place here.

My patch is another. Before I lived here, I used to call in to the area occasionally, but only once did I come here to see a good bird - a juv Red backed Shrike found by Julie Roper about 12 years ago. Even the coast line facing east to the North Sea is quite mundane. It is a rocky shore with no areas for gatherings of birds. The landward side is just as bad, intensively worked, mixed farmland. It is scenic but not too bird friendly really.

It is this that makes it quite a task to keep to the patch when half an hour drive North takes me to Holy Island and another half an hour South takes in the ponds and wetlands of Druridge Bay or Newbiggin. But, I live here, so technically I can visit every single day, even if its just watching out of the window, so over the past 9 years I have stuck with it.

Maybe once a year, if I am lucky, is there a period of weather that makes even this place worth a look, and most often that involves Seawatching. Its the sort of activity that can put you on a level with some other places, at last. This weekend, proved to be my 2018 window of opportunity to add a few good species to the year list.

On Saturday and Sunday I spent 6.5 hrs, alone, glued to my scope and bins enjoying the conveyor belt of birds rattling through my mediocre patch. For once I felt like a contender!

My list looks like this -

All moving North unless otherwise stated.

Pale bellied Brent 3
Shelduck 32
Wigeon 760
Mallard 12
Teal 100
Shoveler 6 attached to scoter flocks of all things.
Pintail 3 a scarce patch bird
Long tailed Duck 51 best count ever on patch.
Goldeneye 22
Scaup 3 only 3rd record.
Tufted Duck 1
Common Scoter 1034
Velvet Scoter 33
Eider 50
Red breasted Merganser 13
Red throated Diver 50
Black throated Diver 2 a rare visitor.
Great Northern Diver 8
Slavonian Grebe 1 second patch record
Manx Shearwater 11
Fulmar 50
Little Auk 9
Bonxie 1
Pomarine Skua 1 distant but carrying the full spoons.
Purple Sandpiper 9
Glaucous Gull 1 fw right over our heads N.

Plus uncountable Gannets, Kittiwakes and Auks and a Short eared Owl and a few Starlings in-off right past me. Further south observers had Leaches Petrel ( one even on Howick patch per Ben Steele but I missed it along at Craster) double figures of Little Auks and Poms, but when sitting watching by yourself its easy to miss out.

I am not too concerned, after all I had a right old hatful of decent patch birds to boost the total but its high time some quality passerine action came my way. Fingers crossed.


Tuesday, October 23, 2018


On Sunday JWR and myself went over to see the Gull billed Terns as he was unable to get away earlier. They arrived from the south east bang on cue at 8am and continued their routine the rest of the time we were there. The dull flat light gave even better views than on Friday. Also on the pits were 16 Barnacle Geese, 4 Whooper Swans, 4 Pochard and 1 female Goldeneye.

As we were in SW Northumberland we decided to go the whole hog and venture over the border into the hinterlands of Mordor where a juvvy Spotted Sandpiper was showing well on a creek in Jarrow, South Tyneside. Initially it remained quite distant but as the tide began to rise, this little teetering wader came close up allowing good views and evena few photographs.

This is my, er, 4th Spotted Sand but my first without spots!

Watching this bird brought the morning, and maybe the birding autumn, to a close. Unless this pending northerly produces some seawatching at the weekend...

After the weather...

As I have commented earlier on 'the big one travels alone' a comment by the late and great Tim Cleeves, Thursday 18th October produced news of probably the most unusual and best county record of the autumn. Way inland at an unknown spot called Haughton Strother Gravel Pits, Ross Ahmed stumbled upon the unbelievable. Not the one biggie but two - GULL-BILLED TERNS!

He got the news out early evening on the Thursday only to be met with an even bigger bombshell that these two first winter birds had been here since the 4th of the month! Two full weeks for a massive county blocker to be kept hidden away from prying eyes. Now, each to their own, I am the first to say that we dont have a god given right to bird news, but these two are viewable at a safe distance from a wide public bridlepath, so whats with the secrecy? I can only think it was due to the lack of parking out on the main access road which was pretty hair raising.

Anyway on Friday I took my kit to work, a full 38 miles from the site and awaited news. I had only been at work an hour when word came that the duo were still present and in a pattern of rest on the pits then flying out to feed in newly planted corn fields, so off I went to begin a 4 hour lunch break.

The road nearby was like a version of the Nurbergring, with lorries and luton vans speeding over blind summits and around corners, so it was disconcerting when I had to park the car in a layby, about a mile away, and walk along its pathless edge.

After dicing with death, the viewing spot was quite open and raised above the pits and the birds were easily seen. What a relief after missing one at Bothal Pond a few years ago and further back missing a pair that were tracked along the coast north from Whitburn.They sat and preened ona small gravel island beside a few black headed and common gulls then flew out to the fields and dip fed onto the ground, probably for worms. We aren't used to terns land feeding here in Northumberland...

These were my third British lifer of 2018 and my second county tick, taking the list to 416 and 344 respectively. I wonder if this autumn has any other surprises up its sleeve?

Monday, October 22, 2018

Backlog of Migrants

Since my previous post, there has been a bit of a birding and weather interlude.

On 11th October the wind briefly veered to the SSE with a gentle F3, with over cast sky and some drizzle patches. Cue migrants! In the dark as I took Peggy for her walk at 06.30, the sky was ringing to the sound of thrushes arriving from the east. Many hundreds of Redwing calls indicated the unseen birds arriving in big numbers in the darkness, odd Fieldfare, Song Thrush and Blackbird puntuated the sound. A Snipe 'scraped' away out of a coast field whilst bramblings squeaked overhead.

As daylight came, the birds continued on a westward passage and the air was quiet again. A lone Noctule Bat following behind the thrushes was my most unusual sighting.

Saturday 13th continued with a mod SSE with rain all morning. 2 Fieldfares , 6 Redwings, 4+ Bramblings, 2 Blackcap and a Chiffchaff were grounded in the village. Despite keeping a cocked ear, I had neither sight nor sound of the expected Yellow browed Warbler on the patch.

At lunchtime a short visit to Warkworth Beach Car  Park finally added Yellow browed Warbler to the 2018 list with a Ring Ouzel chakkering nearby for good measure.

On Sunday 14th I met with John and we headed for Boulmer to look for further arrivals.

A good wander around Seaton Point and the Village had -

Chiffchaff 2+
Yellow browed Warbler 2
Reed Bunting 4
Swallow 10 S
House Martin 1 S
Pintail 1 W
Black throated Diver 1 N
Golden Plover 600+
Goldcrest 2+
Purple Sandpiper 1
Grey Plover 3+
Bar taailed Godwit 4+
Ringed Plover 13
Dunlin 100+
Knot 1
Sandwich Tern 1 S
Red throated Diver 4 N 4S

From Boulmer we went to check Warkworth again, this time finding not one but 3+ Yellow browed Warblers, the Ring Ouzel was still here, 1 Lesser Whitethroat, 2 Blackcap, 3 Chiffchaff and 22 Grey Partridge ( they weren't migrants).

With 5 YBW found before lunch there was surely one on my Howick patch?
Nope not a sniff. Just a passage of 28 Skylarks S 2 Bramblings and a Chiffchaff could be found.

Tuesday 16th also had a hint of SE and with it 480 Redwings flew over our village before 08.30am.

That seemed to be the end of migrant producing weather for a while, but as they say 'The big one travels alone....'

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Migrating Spuggies.

Today I took my birding gear to work with the intention of bunking off at 12 to drive the 50 miles to the nether extremes of our county for the long staying Bee-eater at Haltwhistle. I could have gone on Sunday but couldnt be bothered with the drive, so today was the day. Fired on by Mike Carr's superb photos, I WhatsApped John to tell him of my plan and jokingly commented that it would probably do a vanishing act before I got there, as the weather today was mild, calmish and clear, a lovely day.

Well, my prophecy couldnt have been more accurate. The feathered rainbow was still around at 9am, but at 10 it flew up higher and by 11 it had gone. Not to be seen again other than a fleeting report at 4.20. Time will tell if it returns.

The disappearance of the B.Eater at least saved me a half day holiday and some deisel, giving me time to consider my own sighting of the day.

Its no rare vagrant but Tree Sparrows were on the move this morning with two flocks of 9 and 19 at dawn flying S at a height along the coast path. The hard thing with these is to determine were these migrating or just leaving a roost locally as we still have lots of Tree Spugs here. Some discussion on our local bird group pointed me to think they were indeed on the move as large numbers had been through Spurn recently and a few at other headlands in the NE.

So whilst not a pulse racing  rare, its these migrations that are the food of the patch watcher so I am quite happy with that.

Sunday, October 07, 2018

A Patchy post...

Its been a while since I did a full on local patch type post so Saturday and today were spent doing just that, with maybe a step just a fraction outside the 'official' boundary, which I am quite happy to do. Its no good being precious about these things. Either way all sites visited today can be walked from home and are mostly within the map in the side bar.

On Saturday morning a walk around the coast path and Rumbling Kern with Peggy had - 4 adult winter Mediterranean Gulls, together, in the cow field just north of Seahouses Farm. Two weeks ago there were two adults here, the first time I have had a multiple occurrence on the patch, so to see four in one binocular field of view was excellent. A pair of Stonechats were in scrub by the Rumbling Kern. A five minute seawatch here with bins only had 1 dark Arctic Skua S very close in, 1 ad Common Tern  and 2 juv Arctic Terns N along the rock edges. Further off were 5 Red throated Divers on the sea and another two going S.

A bit of viz migging had 11 Siskins S, 7 Coal Tits coasting S and 9 Skylarks S.

A few butterflies were in the garden- 1 Small White, 8+ Red Admirals, 4 Speckled Wood.

As the wind swung north for the first time in millenia, later in the after noon I did an hour long seawatch from Cullernose Point. It was dire, but I sat it out catching the last sun and fresh air for 4 Red throated Diver, 1 Shelduck, 1 Manx Shearwater, 2 juv Arctic Terns ( probably those seen earlier), 3 Teal and 67 Common Scoter all N. A Small Copper was a late sighting on the coast path and another male Stonechat sat up giving nice close views.

Today I didnt have much hope of seeing much. Last night was clear and cold with a white frost on the car by 11pm. Still we thought we would give Craster ( north end of patch) a try today in case a Yellow browed Warbler had finally made it here.

As John arrived at 7am I put my gear in his car and a flock of 30+ Redwings flew out of the small copse next to our garden. The first of the autumn and a surprise giving the weather.

We arrived at the Craster public car park at about 7.20am and spent the next hour just standing around listening and watching birds viz-migging. Some were coasting S others dropping in from high east having just crossed the North Sea overnight. We totalled a decent list in the next hour -

Brambling 9 in off
Redpoll 60 S
Siskin 58 S
Redwing 38 in off
Fieldfare 3 IO
Song Thrush 3 IO
Goldfinch 12 S
Mistle Thrush 1 S
Golden Plover 13 S 38 N
Dunnock 2 IO arrived high from the east like pipits.
Linnet 13 S
Pied Wagtail 3 S
Crossbill 5 IO
Pink footed Geese 442 S

A Great Northern Diver flew N over head and a Barn Owl flushed from some Ivy on the old quarry wall.

In the bushes around were 2 Goldcrests and 2 Bullfinch.

Not a bad hour standing in  a car park!

We then checked the rest of the village area - 3 Willow Tit, 2 Chiffchaff, 2 Grey Partridge, 1 Great spotted Woodpecker and 1 Treecreeper. The sea was all but dead, 1 Wigeon and 6 Common Scoter N.

This afternoon I walked Peggy down through the village wood to the Pond field and back.
28 Long tailed Tits were very active flying around the village as if not sure where to go next, 1 Chiffchaff, 9 Redwing, 1 Collared Dove, a scarce bird here with maybe two or three records a year, 1 Jay, 1 Brambling S, 1 Wigeon and 10 Mallard on the pond with 2 Mute Swans and 3 Moorhen.

And thats about it for the weekend. No rarities and not even a YBW, but some nice birds to see on the doorstep and to witness migration is always good too... now where are those easterlies?

Seawatch from Cullernose.

The view north from Cullernose

Howick Bay

The coast path facing south

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Scotering along the wall...

Autumn 2018 is looking like becoming a classic for all the wrong reasons. You would have to look back 13 years since we had a September in Northumberland without a Yellow browed Warbler, but here we are into October with the clock still ticking or should that be, the west wind still blowing.

That would have been tolerable had there been an early autumn fall or two with Redstarts, Pied Flycatchers and Garden Warblers mixed with an odd Wryneck, Barred Warbler and Red backed Shrike, but even these have been relegated to rarity status this year. On my patch I've not had a single one. The best I could manage when it comes to drift migrants is a lone Whinchat in early August.

With all of this creating an atmosphere of futility, it was time to totally rethink our birding. Even the mothing is dying down for the season so no succour to be found here, so there was only on thing to do - go twitching. Hopefully that will give us the fix we are looking for.

On Sunday, with a mega seaduck and a couple of scarce southern padders an hour or two to the north, I met JWR at Homebase for a pre-dawn drive up the A1. Starting off at Barns Ness where both Woodchat Shrike and Rose coloured Starling had been present and showing well for a week or more and even up until 3pm on Saturday our hopes were high for a good day.

Soon, the best laid plans and all that began to shine through. The long stayers had only done an overnight bunk. The only thing of note seen in a couple of hours searching was a Merlin dashing over the headland.

The wind was increasing, so after breakfast at the car, we headed off on the 30 miles to Musselburgh sea wall for our headline act.

Success here was much more straight forward thanks to a huddle of twitchers a few hundred yards away hunched up over scopes all pointing in the same direction. This site is easy going, a long wide flat track behind a sea wall facing north onto good numbers of northern sea fowl. Today we had 70+ Velvet Scoter, 6+ Slavonian and 1 Great crested Grebe and a few Eiders, over flown by a Bonxie and 4 Sandwich Terns.

Our cryptic target lurking amongst the basically similar Velvets was an American White-winged Scoter. Fortunately it was one of the closest birds to the wall where all of the seperating features could be seen. This is maybe only the 4th UK record of the bird, recently given specific status rather than being a race of Velvet Scoter and very nice it was too with its lolly pink bill tip and white war paint eye makeup.

We were so pleased with the line up here, our previous dipping stop was all but forgotten. As for this Autumn? Well....