Wednesday, November 22, 2023

Winter Birding

 Its about the time of year to start having a think about plans for the coming one, 2024. 

So far I have no fixed ideas, as is usual, so I read as much as possible from books, blogs, social media etc to try and get some juices flowing.  It can be difficult in early winter, in the aftermath of our busiest season to get fired up.

Yesterday Andy Mould, a good Northumberland birder and stalwart of Holy Island birding, posted a short tweet ( I am as likely to change that to X as I am to change the name of a Ross's Gull) about his year of garden birds. This had me thinking, whilst a lot of time is spent birding from my garden, I never really summarise it or keep a real eye on what has occurred over the year.  With the garden being my Local Patch epicentre, thats one thought for next year.

Another strand I've pondered, is how to change from as many written notes to more sketches and illustrations that I enjoy doing. This always leads me to a dead end as its just not possible to cover a days birding, fully, in sketch form. without missing loads of stuff.

More to think about in coming weeks.

The last 10 days have been spent locally as usual.

Last Friday a nice bit of birding fortune came my way. Late morning, standing at the office printer, in a daze, I glanced out of the first floor windows, to see a lovely sunny early winters day. Just the type of day, you could imagine a flock of Waxwings catching the sun on top of some trees maybe. So, I sauntered the 20 or so feet from the printer to the window and gazed across the car par towards the main A189 dual carriageway. Surely not? There was a single bird sat right at the top of a roadside Ash, It is too far for details it looked like a medium sized dumpy blob. Then more appeared as if from nowhere, 9 in total all on top of highest twigs nicely spaced. Too neat for Starlings. Then the clincher. Two began flycatching like oversized Spotted Flycatchers climbing high to snatch an unseen insect and gliding back, bee-eater fashion to their perch. A flock of Waxwings! Well predicted by me!

To be fair, I have seen them in this exact spot some years ago so it is favoured, but there were a genuine surprise. I decided to check them with my scope that was in the boot of the car, but as I glanced back from my desk they had all gone and did not return. I'm not having much luck nailing these fluffy buggers down...

This brings me to Sunday. We tend to expect very quiet days in winter but if you are lucky a nice little list of birds can be found.

JWR and I met up at Boulmer main car park at 7.45am. From here we decided to wander north around Longhoughton Steel and back and maybe have a sit and wait at the north end, which we did.

Out to sea 3 duck Goldeneye flew S , 6 Red throated Divers loafed and fished, as did 25 or so Gannets, En route to the Steel we had 4 Purple Sandpipers on the rocks. 3 Shelduck flew S and 1 ad and 1 fw Little Gull flew N. 

A nice start.

We loitered around the Longhoughton Steel bench for a while. Here, a nice Woodcock arrived in-off, landed briefly then continued west. On the sea towards Howick were 5 Goldeneye inc 2 males, and a nice drake Long tailed Duck with last weeks female. Common Scoter females had increased by one to 8 birds. Over head a light movement of Pinkfeet with 80 and 62 birds south.

Ive not had a Wigeon on my patch list this year so 40 on the shore here can just about be scoped from the south end of the homestead. One to bear in mind. 

4 Black tailed Godwits N here was a nice record for our wetland impoverished bit of rocky coast.

The wander back to the car park was uneventful but another sit and watch tea from the car boot gave us some more to look at. 73+ Dunlin, 18+ Ringed Plover, 16+ Bar tailed Godwits, 50+ Lapwings, 4+ Grey Plover and 19 Sanderlings were all regulars but still nice nonetheless.

As we were about to head home, John picked out a little Merlin sitting on the rocks offshore. It sat a while before doing a drag start across the haven towards our waders. Here, it was unlucky when it missed a Dunlin when the bird dropped, in defence, into the shallow water to hide. The Merlin gave up on that and headed, low, back over the bay to the rocks. As it arrived, it flushed the Lapwings and a few more Dunlin high and away, but one Dunlin was a bit slower and remained seated. The Merlin by now was just about a metre over its head and on its way past when it caught sight of the dozing calidrid.

In one move, the Merlin stalled, back pedalled and stuck out a leg, grabbing the wader from its slumber and into the air. They came to rest a short distance away on the weed covered rocks where the falcon administered the last rites before eating every morsel in front of us. Gruesome. but still amazing! 

Above - Merlin and top, same bird eating a Dunlin. 


The Wessex Reiver said...

Just a suggestion for keeping the interest going in 24, may I suggest 12 proper full size paintings - one for each calendar month - they could be painted en plein air at a location - of your favourite bird/nature of that month with the lovely notebook style information sketches circling around. You'd then both have a wonderful dozen paintings to keep on the wall which in tern could provide the chapter plates for the Naturenotes book, which we'd all love to see written by you. If it was good enough for John Craster to write about his estate wildlife, it's good enough for us to read about your local patch too.

Stewart said...

Hi Andrew, thats piled the pressure on! ;)
To be honest thats something I have hoped to do most years, but for some reason struggle to get past the sketchbook / notebook type of thing! I'll see...