Monday, 27 October 2014

Patch Tick, Year Tick, Lifer!

Well as the title of this post points out the last few days have been rather thrilling in the birding stakes. This weekend has seen numerous additions to my year list, a couple of patch mega's and even two wholesome lifers, one of which came as a rather bizarre surprise. Winter is clearly on its way in Northumberland with grebes, ducks and geese massing on local water bodies and a fresh wave of winter migrants flooding in including numerous Redwing's, 'dark billed' continental Blackbirds, Mistle Thrushes and of course heaps of Robin and Goldcrest. I'm certainly not complaining, winter is by far my favourite season. Admittedly it isn't the best time to turn up rarities and thus is often scoffed at by many 'birders' though for someone like me, seemingly addicted to the more tarty, brightly coloured avian species this time of year provides a host of delights. Namely the many duck species now free of their gloomy eclipse colours but also a host of thrushes, finches, divers, swans and geese, all of which combine to make winter in Northumberland a pretty special affair.

So where to begin, on the patch of course. Things started off well this weekend with the resident common bits 'n' bobs putting on a splendid show in the local woodland. Among these the characteristic (and quite horrible) call of a Willow Tit was most welcome. Great Spotted Woodpecker, a good few Jay and a flock of c150 Goldfinch likewise proved most enjoyable. The Alder Carr located on the site of the old tip came up trumps with no less than 8 Grey Partridge, heaps of Goldcrest, 2 Kestrel and perhaps best of all my first Lesser Redpoll of the winter whilst a trip around the opencast provided the usual assortment of wildfowl, with a rough count revealing c200 Teal, c80 Mallard, c50 Wigeon and four rather handsome Pochard. It was here I inadvertently flushed my first tick of the weekend, a cracking Snow Bunting which lifted from the gully running behind the old Crouches mining headquarters. These are a tricky bird at the best of times, even more so inland thus this was one sighting that put definite skip in my step though as you will see, things only improved. A sighting of a Rough-Legged Buzzard at Widdrington Moor Lake a few days past sent me scampering down to road in search of what would be my first major patch rarity.. and a life tick. An hour frantic scanning failed to turn up anything other than 2 Common Buzzards and the long staying Slavonian Grebe thus my additions eventually lapsed and I set about picking through a flock of Pink-Footed Geese snoozing on the far shore. As I zeroed in with my scope a bird flashed directly past the unfazed geese and sailed low across the fields to the east. Managing to spin my scope and catch it as it briefly turned towards me I noted it's 'odd' appearance and strange harrier like flight. Sure enough once it turned to fly east towards Widdrington Village the characteristic white tail of the Rough-Leg became visible. Brief but wonderful, lets just say I skipped home that day noting a patch first female Stonechat in the process. 

Tree Sparrow at Cresswell
My first Whoopers of the autumn
Following on from my patch based success this morning found me hoofing it down the coast in search of any lingering migrants. The hurricane force winds storming in from the west dashed these hopes however though I decided to persevere. Druridge Pools held very little with a dozen of each Curlew and Lapwing perhaps the only species of note. An up close and personal encounter with a Stoat lightened the mood somewhat with the pint sized mustelid abandoning its usual caution and running to with perhaps 1.5 meters of me! Must be the wind? Sadly I dared not move enough to unpack my camera thus no photos on this occasion! From here I opted for a stroll up to Cresswell Pond noting no less than 23 Whooper Swans on route. My first of the winter. Cresswell, like Druridge was also relatively devoid of all life. A number of Tree Sparrows and 2 Stonechats in the hedge running towards the hide were as ever nice to see whilst the pond itself held little other than Wigeon, Teal, Moorhens, a handful of Redshank and a number of very confiding Snipe. Before I departed a Water Rail put in a brief appearance though yet again no photos.

Heading home around lunch time I'd just set about blogging when I noticed the news of a reported Barred Warbler at Hauxley, another overdue lifer of mine. A quick phone call to my Gran (what would I do without her) and I was promptly dropped off at Hauxley, a reserve that by my own admission I rarely visit. Guess it's just out of comfortable walking distance! The various berry laden hedges here held a good number of common species including a few Greenfinch, Coal Tit and some of those migrant Blackbirds mentioned above. The feeders held no less than 8 Pheasants, including a rather peculiar melanistic female bird alongside a whopping 30 Tree Sparrows and 5 Brown Rat. I know rats aren't everyone's cup of tea (nor are they mine) but watching them today, vigorously feeding on the grain spilled by the sparrows I couldn't help but smile. As long as they aren't in my house, they're fine by me. A quick spell watching the female Long-Tailed Duck that seems to have taken up residence on the small pool and it was time to scour the Buckthorn hedge for any signs of my long awaited Barred.. This proved futile, to say the least with little other than a few tits and rats the sum of my efforts. Departing the site as the light died I picked up the distant outline of a bird hurtling across the fields adjacent to Hauxley village, something about it just didn't seem right. As it neared a whopping great tail caught my attention as did it's unusual flight pattern both of which sent me tearing through my bag in search of my bins that I had conveniently packed away. Eventually zoning in on the bird as it flew into the shelter belt surrounding the Hauxley visitor center it's identity was revealed to be none other than a Ring-Necked Parakeet.. My first ever. The funny thing about this encounter was that the bird caught my attention just I was typing  a Facebook post regarding said same species. Wishful thinking? Whatever it is I retired for the day feeling more than content. Parakeets too may not be everyone's cup of tea but for me they represent one of my most longed for sightings.. Guess it comes back to the tarty bright colours? 

Long-Tailed Tit. One of many that have materialized of late..
Sorry to bore you with yet another Dunnock..

Proud of this one! Hours stood hiding by the feeders paid off..

Just who is watching who these days?
Not exactly a wild animal but Smudge is cute..

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Willow Tits and Demonic Grebes.

Truth be told until now October on the patch has been uncharacteristically underwhelming. Excluding the return 'my' Pink-Feet and my first Redwings of the season there has been little to capture the imagination. Even the addition of Slavonian Grebe to the patch list this month failed to delight due to a combination of gale force winds, chilly temperatures and poor viewing conditions. I've now noted this bird on five occasions during the past week or so, each time struggling to see anything other than a shaky blur of black and white diving at the far side of the man made ocean at Widdrington. Today however things were different, the remnants of "Gonzalo" were now blowing in a favorable direction forcing what few birds remained on the lake towards the near shore. Thankfully said grebe was among them and I finally received rewarding views of the Slav complete with its characteristic and rather demonic red eyes. Wonderful! Admittedly I ticked this bird upon our first encounter though this was the first occasion I could actually kick back and enjoy it. A spot of wind isn't that bad after all I guess.

Elsewhere on the patch things have been rather placid; my new feeding station the apparent highlight with things finally picking up. House Sparrows and Blue Tits still appear to have the monopoly on the seeds, nuts and fat balls, closely followed by Coal Tits, Dunnocks and Great Tits. Today however saw a little more variety in the garden with both Great Spotted Woodpecker and Nuthatch drawn in by the promise of a free meal. These however pale in comparison to the splendid pair of Willow Tits that dropped in not ten minutes past, frustratingly departing before I could focus my camera. With any luck they'll be back! These critters were the reason I erected the station in the first place so it was wonderful to have my efforts actually pay off.. for once. Away from the comfort of my garden things have been a little less interesting though a nippy rummage around Stobswood turned up c100 Goldfinch, a Sparrowhawk, 4 Yellowhammer and quite a few Goldcrest and Long-Tailed Tit. Skeins of Pink-Footed Geese remain a regular fixture with about fifty or so birds passing over every hour whilst the lake at Widdrington held a Great Crested Grebe and a few Wigeon alongside of course, the Slav.

Always the first to the bird table.

A regular feature of the feeding station of late.
I've only really managed one jaunt 'off-patch' this week with the Tuesday gone spent roaming around Druridge and Chevington in search of a Yellow-Brow or two. Alas a single Chiffchaff in the pine plantation at Druridge Pools was the only migrant of the day and indeed the only warbler. Druridge, like Stobswood was deathly quiet with the only passerines putting on anything reminiscent of a good show being the many Goldcrests now flitting around the shelter belt and the odd Stonechat in the dunes. The large pool held a good number of Gadwall alongside a few Teal and Little Grebe whereas 6 Dunlin, 2 Redshank and a lone Curlew were the only waders on show. Again Goldfinch numbers here have skyrocketed with numerous flocks of 100 or more now scouring the dunes and scrub. A few Greenfinch amongst one such gathering came as a little bit of a surprise, these have never been a common bird in the area. At least by my reckoning. A walk along to Chevington again was fairly unproductive, a pair of Kestrel my only reward. Thankfully the main lake at Chev redeemed the day somewhat with a gargantuan number of ducks on show. Here c300 Teal were joined by c150 Wigeon, c60 Tufted Duck, 35 Gadwall, 50+ Mallard and perhaps best of all some 40 Shoveler. A firm favourite in my books. Wildfowl aside, Chevington too was quite thus I opted for a leisurely return trip along the beach in the vague hope of catching up with the long staying Shore Lark or perhaps my first returning Snow Bunting of the year. Both of these were denied me however, as is the norm when I dare to make predictions about birding trips. I really must learn not to expect too much, this way everything from the small and obscure to the rare and grant will be a surprise! Despite the lack of passerine activity the beach still came up trumps with a whopping count of 75 Sanderling scuttling around in the surf. Taking confiding to a whole new extremely, these delightful white waders kept me enthralled for a good half hour even allowing for some acceptable photos to be taken. A rare feat given my total lack of photography skills. Elsewhere here a handful of Oystercatcher, 12 Ringed Plover and a dead and somewhat smelly Dab were of note.

A few other interesting odds and ends from the past few week include a convoy of 12 Grey Partridge on route to Druridge. A good count of what is essentially still a scarce and declining species. A pair of Red-Legged Partridge around Widdrington Village, only my second record in the region and three separate Barn Owl encounters along the stretch of road between my Widdrington home and the bay. Always a pleasure! Work commitments have me pretty much house bound this week but I should manage a few short jaunts trips out whilst I will of course continue staking out my feeders in the hope that today's Willow Tits put in a return appearance. This time I will have my camera ready, instead of charging in my room. 

A Dab looking, well.. Dead.
Contender for my favourite winter wader.