Thursday, 20 November 2014

The Definition of "Patch Gold"

Not overly long since my last post but I feel somewhat compelled to blabber on a bit following an uncharacteristically productive few days on the patch. As all you discerning patchers out there know, our chosen pass time can often be a tedious affair. With our persistent selves often facing a whole manner of atrocious weather conditions to be rewarded with little other than a miserable looking Blue Tit, Woodpigeon or Mallard. Thankfully, there are also the good days. The last few days have indeed been some of my best to date on the patch with both scarcities and common residents putting on a delightful show over the course of the last 48 hours. Couple this with the addition of two new 'patch ticks' and it appears I could well finish November on an all time high!

Starting out as usual with Stobswood village and it's woody fringes and the usual cast of woodland critters have been showing particularly well of late with both Great Spotted Woodpecker and Nuthatch noted on numerous occasions. Blackbirds are everywhere at the minute, no doubt due to the influx of continental birds though it is the other Thrush species that have done the most to hold my attention. A good number of Mistle Thrush are now present around the village whilst Song Thrush numbers are likewise on the up. Winter thrush appear to show a differing trend however, much to my dismay with only a handful of Fieldfare and Redwing still in evidence following last weeks migratory explosion. The residents continue to delight however with Robin, Goldcrest, Chaffinch and Long-Tailed Tit too numerous to count and both Jay and Treecreeper adding a touch of glamour to my morning wanderings. By far the bird here was a cracking Marsh Tit, unearthed next to the railway lines as I trudged home from the pools this evening. Comprising the first of my "new birds", Marsh Tit is a species I had always expected to find at Stobswood though one I had always missed, until now. Perhaps I've been misidentifying some of the many Willow Tits noted of late. Today's bird left no doubt whatsoever to its identity however showing immaculately and calling the whole time. Hooray!
Determined not to overlook the humble Blackbird..

Moving on to the "old tip" and things have been equally as thrilling with the highlight here 12 Bullfinch. A monstrous count of what I thought was a relatively scarce and declining species? A Green Woodpecker was also heard again here for the second consecutive week with a second bird (or perhaps the same one) heard five minutes later, this time much closer to my location. I have made it my mission to clap eyes on at least one of these exotic looking birds before Christmas but until now have failed miserably. Patience is avert you James, good things come to those who wait and all that. Also around the tip were a few Reed Bunting, Greenfinch and Goldfinch whilst a Kestrel hunted the Alder Carr and a pair of cock Pheasants scrapped nosily in one of the surrounding fields.

Widdrington Moor Lake continues it's excellent spell of late with not one but three Peregrines now in residence. Two of which appear to readily interact, a fact which when combined with the clear difference in size between the birds leads me to assume they're a pair? If indeed Peregrine pairs do winter together, if not then please enlighten me. Anyways, watching the pair bathing together in the shallows made for excellent viewing yesterday until an "odd looking raptor" took flight and eclipsed them entirely. Wandering along the road to the west of the lake I inadvertently disturbed a large bird of prey from a nearby post. It wasn't until the thing lifted that it revealed a stonking white tail band! Rough-Legged Buzzard! Or so I thought, given the records of such a bird at the site a few weeks past. Happy to say I was wrong however and as I zoned in on the bird it soon revealed itself to be something else entirely, a female Hen Harrier! Not exactly unheard of in my part of Northumberland but likewise far from common and not something I was expecting when I left the house that morning. Anyways, said bird showed for a good ten minutes, at times mobbed by both a Kestrel and a Buzzard giving a perfect demonstration of scale but as my concentration lapsed and I set about reporting the sighting that the blasted thing disappeared over a hedge, never to be seen again. Oh well, a patch skydancer, how wonderful. Elsewhere the lake held good numbers of Wigeon, Goldeneye and Coot alongside the injured Pink-Footed Goose and a handful of Cormorant. 
"Whose a pretty boy then"

Finally, today found me venturing to perhaps my favourite corner of the patch, Stobswood Pools. Taking the usual route around the opencast I was more than a little dismayed to find a newly erected fence blocking my path. I had thought the alterations to the site complete when the last lot of sheep paddocks and "future woodland" were created but nope, appears I was wrong and whoever is responsible for the site still has a few alterations in mind. Anyways, a hop, skip and a jump later and I was back on track flushing a couple of Snipe from a ditch as I made my way across the site. A female Stonechat here was a nice find, marking my first record for this particular part of the site whilst at least 50 Lapwing flew overhead and both Kestrel and Buzzard could be seen quartering the grassland. A large flock of some 210 Canada Geese grazed nearby but failed to turn up anything other than 2 Greylags and a lone Pinkie. The pools themselves as usual were bustling with life with Teal, Mallard, Wigeon and Tufted Duck numbering well into Redshank feeding on what remains of the mud. 9 Mute Swans and a single Goldeneye were also noted here whereas the return journey turned up a nice flock of 8 Grey Partridge, a few Skylark and perhaps 20 Meadow Pipit. There you have it, not exactly a bad few days patch birding! Shame I'm pretty much stuck in work between now and Christmas, the joys of holding down a medial bar job. Even if I don't manage any new additions before the new year my current Patchwork challenge score stands at a personal best of 140 points, topping last years score by some 30%! I do however fancie one final flourish before the year draws to an end, perhaps a Bean Goose or the years second Green-Winged Teal? Only time will tell.

double digits and 3

Friday, 14 November 2014

'Little' Lifers

Quite a bit to report this week despite me being largely locked away in doors as a result of my mind numbing bar job. Only managing a few short trips to my usual local haunts I was delighted to finally catch up with a my first Little Auk. Six of them to be more precise, marking perhaps my most overdue British "lifer" to date,  with perhaps the exception of Bearded Tit and Hawfinch. A trip up the coast originally in search of Little Owls was relatively uneventful until I finally clapped eyes on a small party of the petite auks bobbing up and down behind the breakers just off of Snab Point. Not the best views but finally I can rest having spent the past few weeks staring angrily at reports such as "c800 Little Auks past St. Marys" and even "Little Auk on East Chevington".

Whilst on the theme of pewny adorable things..
Aside from the Auks Monday's seawatch turned up the usual array of seafaring creatures with Cormorants and large gulls too numerous to count. Likewise the wintering Red-Throated Divers were out in force with at least twelve noted during the course of my visit. Two flocks of Common Scoter also passed by, the latter in the company of two Teal whilst the only other birds on show consisted of the odd Eider and Grey Heron. I'm pretty sure I clapped eyes on an immature Med Gull at one point too though given the poor views and my relative lack of seawatching experience i opted to discount this sighting. The exposed rocks surrounding the point and Cresswell village were also fairly productive though I failed to connect with any Purple Sandpipers on this occasion. A lone Grey Plover was adequate compensation however whilst c100 Golden Plover, 12 Ringed Plover and a fair few Turnstone were equally entertaining. Couple these with the presence of the odd Dunlin, Curlew, Oystercatcher and Redshank and I moved on feeling fairly positive about what the day might deliver.

Arriving at Cresswell Pond I was somewhat suprised (and delighted) by the total lack of birders. Indeed the hide stood totally empty allowing me to decant my coffee, unpack my sandwiches and spend a leisurely hour picking through the assortment of wetland birds on show. Wigeon and Mallard were as usual the most numerous ducks here, joined on this occasion by a few dapper looking Teal and 4 fantastic drake Goldeneye. A species that has captivated me ever since I clapped eyes on my first on the River Blyth almost a decade ago. Also on the pond were a few Little Grebe and Tufted Duck whilst a few hundred Lapwing lazed around in the surrounding fields and a Water Rail showed surprisingly well outside the hide, flushing maybe a dozen Snipe as it dashed from reed bed to reed bed in search of cover. Leaving the site numerous Blackbird, Goldfinch and Tree Sparrows were noted in the company of a single Song Thrush and Stonechat. All rather nice! The walk down to Druridge Pools turned up a few hundred Pink-Footed Geese and a party of five Whooper Swans, likely the same birds noted on last weeks wanderings though this was about all 'the pools' had to offer. Alas no Little Owls..

Not exactly a good photo but still.. Got'cha!
A day later and I chose to venture to Druridge again for a spot of ringing with Iain and Janet. Thanks guys. Even without fully committing to the training regime I still feel I'm learning a lot, especially when it comes to my identification skills. All of which I'm sure will help wherever I end up working in the future! The highlights here were a pair of Siskin, my first at Druridge believe it or not and an incredibly feisty Great Spotted Woodpecker. A Little Egret overhead also came as somewhat of a surprise whilst a pair of Kestrels hunted the dunes and at least three troops of Long-Tailed Tits scoured the shelter belt in their typically delightful fashion. 

Back on the home front and things have been quite interesting of late. Just over a week ago now I landed a monster patch tick in the form of a Green Woodpecker heard calling somewhere behind the old Brickworks at Stobswood. These birds are by no means common in the local area though in all honestly I probably got a tad overexcited when I first picked up the yaffling stemming from somewhere in the small pine plantatine. Hopefully the bird will loiter and in the coming weeks I may finally be able to clap eyes on one of the elusive green beasts. Elsewhere on the patch c40 Fieldfare were new for the year, joining c25 Blackbirds, 4 Mistle Thrush, 3 Redwing and 2 Song Thrush in the fields east of Stobswood pools. My second patch Snow Bunting of the year was also a nice touch, this one showing a tad better as it hopped around on the shore of the east pool. Honestly, I challenge anyone to spend five minutes in the company in one of these wonderful winter visitors and not leave feeling elated. Great birds. These goodies aside and the only other birds of note consisted of the long staying Slavonian Grebe, a good few Bullfinch and the odd Buzzard whereas my feeders continue to attract Nuthatch and Great Spot on a daily basis.

The original 'angry bird'