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.

Monday, 13 October 2014

Wandering Northumberland, as ever..

Distinct lack of blog activity over the past week due a combination of work, driving lessons (shudders) and other commitments. In between the more mundane activities I did manage to squeeze in a few local trips, firstly around the patch which fared quite poorly for once. Secondly down the coast to Cresswell, Druridge and Chevington and finally, as of this morning to my previous stomping ground along the River Blyth. Lots to report, including two lifers. One of which for once was self found but more on that later..

Also managed an "acceptable" Squirrel shot, hooray.
A lengthy stay at Cresswell early last week was a delight as always though heavy rains the night before and a incredibly high tide had removed all trace of the sand bar outside of the hide. Where last week Little Stints and Curlew Sandpipers had fed Mallards now dabbled and gulls bathed in typical energetic fashion. Despite the high water level a few waders were still in evidence with at least 200 Lapwing dotted around the opposing fields alongside a few Curlew. Snipe and a single Dunlin were also located snoozing in one of the few remaining shallow areas. Despite the lack of long legged things there was plenty to keep me entertained with two Brent Geese perhaps the best on show. Of all our regular geese these have to be my favourite! Feeding alongside wintery migrants were the usual assortment of wildfowl with both Wigeon and Teal numerous alongside the odd Tufted Duck whilst a Water Rail darting across the clearing outside of the hide marked only my third sighting this year. Leaving the hide a Little Egret lifted from the burn and dropped in on the opposing shore, well out of enjoyable viewing distance. As is the norm when visiting Cresswell I chose to exit the site at a leisurely pace, picking apart the feeder laden hedge for any signs of life. Tree Sparrows were numerous here with at least twenty nosily chirping in the Hawthorns as I passed by. The feeders themselves held Goldfinch, Great Tit and Blue Tit whilst the odd Robin, Dunnock and Wren skulked about in the lower vegetation. I'd all but given up hope of finding something out of the ordinary when a small bird flitting around in the top of a willow caught my attention. I initially thought Goldcrest until I finally got my bins on the creature and noticed the stonking great supercillium radiating in the morning light. It was of course a Yellow-Browed Warbler, my first as a matter of fact. A little bit overdue given the number turning up around me each year but who cares, a great little find and a pleasure to behold.

Leaving Cresswell behind I decided to potter on up to Snab Point for a spot of seawatching. I wasn't expecting much, indeed me and the pursuit aren't the stanchest of friends. The sea was relatively devoid of life for the first half hour though the exposed rocks held a good number of birds with dozens of Ringed Plover feeding alongside the odd Redshank, Oystercatcher and Sanderling. Turning my attention back to the barren expanse of blue in front of me and things picked up somewhat, just as I was losing the will to live. A single Great Crested Grebe fed on the sea amongst a raft of kelp whilst a few Red-Throated Diver flew past close in shore. Better still was a raft of c25 Common Scoter which loitered for a while before melting away into the waves. Concluding the offerings were 4 juvenile Sandwich Terns, 2 Golden Plover, the odd Gannet and of course the ever present assortment of gulls, both large and small. Seeking some more active birding I decided to walk the mile or so back to Druridge Pools though this venture was somewhat short lived. The plantation still held a few Chiffchaff alongside an ungodly amount of Goldcrests whilst a brief scan of the shelter belt turned up little excluding a few Reed Bunting, Chaffinch and an assortment of tits. The pools held equally little with a few showy Little Grebe the highlight whilst a pair of Stonechat as ever put on an obliging show in the dunes. Thankfully these dire circumstances were short lived when a tweet from a friend sent me running for Chevington in search of one of my most sought after lifers.. I am of course talking about the Shore Lark that has persisted in the area for the last week or so. Arriving at the site I was dumbfounded at just how confiding the bird was, only budging when dog walkers and tactless birders got to within a few meters of where it fed on the strand line. These birds truly are beautiful creatures, a fact which depressed me to no end upon the horrible realization that I'd left my SD card in my laptop.. at home. Oh well, a few dodgey phone scoped shots to commemorate the day but in all honestly I don't need them, this is one encounter that will stick with me for some time! 

Phone-Scoped Shore Lark, what a bird!!
Next on the agenda was a few short trips around Stobswood in the hope of increasing my standing in the patchwork challenge league. This wasn't to be however but I did stumble across not one but 3 Red Squirrels feeding in a single Hazel tree just past the old brickyard. It's been years since I witnessed an accumulation of this size in the area and lends hope to the future of our bushy tailed friends, even with the continued presence of two Greys in the area. Thankfully these weren't seen again this week. In true Squirrel fashion as soon as my presence was revealed two of the rodents scurried off out of sight though to my delight one chose to stay, opting to stand deathly still in the hope I didn't noticed it. This allowed for a few decent snaps to be taken, a rare privilege given their tendancy to scarper at the first sign of human presence. Elsewhere Stobswood held only the usual birds with Jay, Great Spotted Woodpecker and Mistle Thursh unearthed in the woodland and 3 Kestrel the best to be had in the scrubby areas. A brief scan of the inland sea at Widdrington turned up a good c300 Pink-Footed Geese though not the hoped for Bean Goose (it has to happen soon) whilst only a winter plumage Great Crested Grebe a whopping number of gulls did anything to fixate my interest. Breaking down the roost nothing out of the ordinary was revealed though all the common species were well represented with; c210 Black-Headed Gulls, 75 Herring Gulls, 20 Common Gulls, 3 Great Black-Backed Gulls and 1 Lesser Black-Backed accumulated together on the shore. I quite favor my chances of landing a patch Iceland Gull here this winter, or maybe a Glaucous if I'm lucky. I'm not far from the coast and with such large numbers of gulls opting to roost on the site you never know! 

and another shot of Squirrel Nutkin..

House Sparrows now resident on my new feeders.

 Finally, yesterday saw me visiting my mum in Bedlington, the place that first sparked my interesting in birding some 10 years ago. The Blyth Estuary and surrounding habitats may not be everyone's first choice of destination when looking to enjoy the glorious British countryside, indeed most of my visits are adorned by scary encounters with local chavs, burnt out cars, roaming Staffies and dumped shopping trolleys from the nearby Asda. For the open minded birder like myself this all adds to the appeal of the area and no doubt adds to the area being horribly under birded (I've never actually seen another birder here). Setting off from Furnace Bank the river held only the usual suspects with a good count of 6 Moorhen joining dozens of Mallards, 3 Mute Swan and a Kingfisher (heard only). A Little Egret fishing just east of the Kitty Brewstar bridge was a nice surprise marking only my second record of this species at the site whilst a few Teal and Eider loathed around in the channel. It seems I am a bit early for the vast numbers of returning wildfowl that first peaked my interest so many years ago. Given the low tide waders were well represented with the scores on the doors coming in at; c110 Redshank, 120 Dunlin, 50 Ringed Plover, 32 Oystercatcher, 30 Curlew, 6 Turnstone, 3 Black-Tailed Godwit, 1 Lapwing and 1 Greenshank. Not bad at all! A scan of the buckthorn stand opposing the port failed to turn up the hoped for Yellow-Brow but did provide a few more Chiffchaff whilst the "best of the rest" consisted of a fly over Jay, 6 Grey Heron, 4 Cormorant and of course the ever present rabble of gulls, corvids and pigeons. I think I'll put together a blog post detailing some of my best memories from this site given its personal significance to me. Most likely sentimental dribble but some people obviously read it!