Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Fantastic Flycatchers!

There has been a distinct theme to the last few weeks.. Flycatchers! Until recently, the only species I'd seen in Britain was Spotted, and even then these were only recorded one, maybe two times per year. The last week has changed all that with at least one flycatcher species cropping up every time I departed the house! Just another one of the positives of living on the Northumberland coast during migration. These aside the last week has seen me yet again lurking about the coast in search of migrants, largely neglecting the patch for a second week. Sacrilege I know! I did however redeem myself somewhat with a trip around Stobswood this morning which proved a welcome change for trekking the three miles down the Druridge each morning. 

Ringing has been high on the agenda recently with yet more time spend observing Iain at Druridge and a trip up north to Howick to meet with Phil Hanmer, the chap who may in the future take me on as a trainee (fingers crossed). Druridge as usual produced a steady stream of birds with Robins, Wrens and Goldcrest's dominating the haul until a final trip around the nets revealed something all together unexpected, at least on my part; a rather nice Pied Flycatcher. Ringing with Phil proved to be an excellent learning experience, even if I did embarrass myself somewhat by losing a Blue Tit and then even worse, a Long-Tailed Tit. Guess I'll treat that as a learning curve! It was fantastic to be able to observe Phil, and one of his trainees at work and with 72 birds caught it total there was plenty for me to set about ringing/extracting. The highlight here was a Spotted Flycatcher, only my second of the year whilst numerous Blackcaps, Coal Tits, Great Tits, Bullfinches and Chiffchaff's were all very interesting. This marking my first visit to Howick Gardens I opted for a quick wander around the site and was rewarded by a party of Redwing, perhaps my earliest ever record! The site also came up trumps with a flyby Sparrowhawk, calling Tawny Owl and good numbers of resident thrushes. I'll definitely be back, it really is a beautiful location!

Pied Flycatcher
Spotted Flycatcher
Ringing aside, as I said most of my time has been spend birding the Druridge area, for the second consecutive week. It was here my run of good look in the Flycatcher stakes came to a head when a text from Iain alerted me to the presence of of a Red-Breasted Flycatcher in the pine plantation opposing the pools. Sure enough the next morning I was out the house by 5.30am, and was promptly watching my would be lifer flit around the aforementioned location. Or was I? Well truth be told no, a combination of poor light and lack of coffee resulted in me spending the first 20 minutes watching a Spotted Fly, not bad but not the intended bird. Come 6.45 and a second Flycatcher appeared, not 1m away from the first. Could this be it? Again, no. The glimpse of delightful white wing-bar heralded the arrival of a Pied Flycatcher, which spend the next half hour chasing the Spotted from perch to perch. A little later I'd just about given up hope when a third flycatcher appeared in the same Sycamore. Surely, this time.. Yes, Red-Breasted Flycatcher. All three regular British species in the same tree, who'd have thought. Anyways, cutting a long story short I'd barely had a few minutes alone with the bird when another birder came clattering through the plantation spooking everything in sight into hiding, thus I promptly departed. I did however return a little later on and in the company of some of the bay regulars get  better views of the delightful little vagrant. This time without the the addition of the tactless, bin wielding gentleman. Win, win! 

Elsewhere a few visits to Druridge have turned up the usual array of early autumn species with Wheatear now joining the many Blackcap, Whitethroat, Chiffchaff and Willow Warbler currently passing through the site. Hirundine numbers seem to have tailed off with approximately 10 Swallows present on each of my visits alongside the odd House Martin whilst the only other definite migrants on offer consisted of a few Meadow Pipits and Skylarks passing overhead on route to more favorable climes. Of the other species on offer only a monstrous female Sparrowhawk, a juvenile Marsh Harrier and two Little Egrets were of note. In keeping with my usual routine, any visit to Druridge usually results in a short walk up to Cresswell Pond. This week was no different and for once I had Cresswell and the rather comfortable hide all to myself (no doubt thanks to the RB Fly). The highlight here was a single Little Stint amongst the Dunlin in front of the hide whilst the presence of an Avocet came as somewhat of a surprise given the fact most of the local birds departed some two weeks ago. The sand bank also held a hunting Little Egret, c100 Lapwing, 2 Curlew and a Snipe whilst Grey Heron, Moorhen and a lone Greenshank skulked around the fringes of the reed bed. Little could been seen on the pond itself, excluding a female Goldeneye and as such I spent a little longer than usual scrutinizing the various shrubs lining the path to the hide. No rare migrants but plenty of the usual critters with 5 Stonechat, 10 Tree Sparrow and 2 Reed Bunting joined by the usual Dunnocks, Wrens and tits. Departing the site both Reed and Sedge Warbler showed well in the brush and a mixed flock of some c300 Goldfinch and Mipits passed overhead. Excellent.

On a brief note, Stobswood has failed to turn up anything new of late with most of the sites waders having now departed and the local raptors being exceedingly reclusive. A gander around the woods this morning lifted my spirits somewhat with two Willow Tit the obvious highlight. Indeed the usual array of woodland species were on excellent form today with most of the common residents noted within the hour including; Jay (2), Great Spotted Woodpecker (2), Song Thursh (2), Long-Tailed Tit (6), Goldcrest (5), Coal Tit (5), Chiffchaff (6) joined by singles of both Mistle Thrush and Nuthatch. All very nice, I think its safe to say that once the leaves begin to fall and things begin to show somewhat better I can see myself spending an increasing amount of time here.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Migratory Mayhem

Don't you just love September? Wader passage, warblers, hirundines and flycatchers moving on mass and the potential to turn some something rare and all together unexpected. Alas the last week hasn't seen any killer finds on my behalf though for once, it appears I've fared okay in the rarity stakes. Unusually the patch has been largely neglected this week (sacrilege I know) as I spent the majority of my time rooting round on other peoples turf in search of my own vagrant. Though I failed in this respect the past week has seen some pretty outstanding encounters whilst my British list finally rising to 200 species! Measly by the standards of you hardcore twitchers but considering the majority of my birding has, until recently taken place within a 10 miles radius of my house! I'm content. At least for now.

A few days of good conditions have seen a healthy number of common migrants bogged down in Druridge Bay with a few early morning jaunts to the Pools turning up numerous Blackcap, Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler and Whitethroat whilst both Sedge Warbler and Lesser Whitethroat also occurred, though somewhat infrequently. A single Reed Warbler was a nice surprise in the shelter belt and constituted the best warbler of the week seeing as I failed to turn up, or indeed see even one of these numerous Barred Warblers that appear to be cropping up all down the east coast. Also bogged down were a few smart Wheatear and at least two Spotted Flycatcher which showed well in the conifer plantation towards the entrance of the site. It isn't just these departing visitors that are on the move however with migration apparent in all aspects of avian life at the moment. A Woodpigeon in off the sea was a tad bizarre whilst there has been a small fall of Goldcrest and Robin alongside Meadow Pipits, a few Yellow Wagtail and single Great Spotted Woodpecker. Okay, so I can't prove the origins of the woodpecker though seeing as they don't breed at Druridge it seems likely this too has found itself blown in from across the North Sea.

Lesser Whitethroat

Away from the shelter belt Druridge has been quiet lately with wader numbers having tailed off considerably. A little persistence on my behalf paid off however with 2 Ruff, 2 Redshank, 4 Snipe and 10 Curlew noted alongside 2 Whimbrel which passed overhead as I contently worked my way through a flask of coffee in the Oddie Hide. Best of all however was a single Spotted Redshank observed today in the company of the aforementioned Ruff. I hadn't realized just how burly these guys are! At least in comparison to the petite and substantially more delicate Ruff it has selected for company. Waders aside the pools held very little of note with the resident Little Grebes, a handful of dull looking Teal and a flyby female Marsh Harrier the best of the rest. I did however note my first Druridge  Tree Sparrows towards the entrance to the site as I approached on Wednesday. Always a nice bird to see. 

A few short visits to Cresswell Pond failed to turn up the Barred Warbler reported on Thursday though a very appealing selection of waders more than made up for this. The best of these a stonking Curlew Sandpiper which put on quite a show on the sand bar outside the hide, though sadly just out of range of my camera. A lone Little Stint was also in evidence, vigorously feeding alongside a handful of Dunlin. Elsewhere two Little Egrets were as usually a pleasure to behold and the regular selection of common waders. These included some c75 Lapwing, 4 Redshank, 10 Snipe, 1 Common Sandpiper, 1 Ruff and 3 Black-Tailed Godwit. All very nice! Elsewhere Cresswell held the usual Tree Sparrows, a phenomenal number of Goldfinch (at least 300), a smart male Stonechat and the occasional 'hweeting' Warbler. It was departing Cresswell on Saturday that the news of a Blue-Winged Teal at Ashington reached me via the chattering of a few of the local characters. Given my unhealthy fascination with wildfowl this was a must see for me, despite it's suspect credentials. This in mind I was delighted when Jack and Dan offered to pick me up and join them on a local "mini twitch" and soon enough I was sat on the banks of the Wansbeck observing my would be lifer. Okay, the duck was a little disappointing.. Not really sure what I was expecting given the time of year though the blue wing that gives the species its name was clearly visible. A small splash of colour on what was by any standards a rather dull, unobtrusive bird. Much rather see a breeding plumage drake but who am I to be ungrateful. Not sure if this bird will be accepted but until then it is well an truly on my British list, perhaps the best addition this year on par with the Cresswell Stilt Sandpiper. 
Coal tit playing Peeaboo at Druridge

Continuing my spell of good luck a tweet from David Elliot this morning heralded the arrival of a Wryneck at Hadston, less than three miles from my front door. This was one bird I was not going to miss! A few pleading texts to my parents and I was promptly dropped off and was soon watching my 200th species for Britain and perhaps one of my most longed for lifers. Wryneck being one bird that has fascinated me since I began birding. At first the cryptic critter proved difficult to see, spending at least half an hour skulking in the undergrowth before it finally flew into a nearby Hawthorn giving immaculate views through the scope. Prompted by the movement of others myself and good dozen birders manage to creep to within 10m of the bird which sat rather contently on its elevated perch providing those with good cameras an excellent photo opportunity. A lapse in concentration saw the bird disappear into cover once more, prompting the departure of all but three of the transfixed nature lovers. Thankfully I was among those who opted to stay and before long the bird was again out in the open, this time on the ground, not six feet away! Finally, I was able to snap a few photos. Some of which turned out surprisingly okay! This I hadn't expected. Putting on an excellent show for a further ten minutes the bird contently pottered around on the ground feeding the whole time and giving me perhaps my greatest avian encounter.. Ever. On a final note, it baffles me how some of the "local elders" can pass off such a beautiful and confiding bird as "just another Wryneck". As far as I'm concerned the day I stop getting excited over a species such as this is the day I should hang up my bins for good.   
What a bird! 
Said Wryneck returning to its routine perch.

Rarities and wanderings aside a few trips to the patch turned up my first year tick the month in the form of four cracking Pochard, far from a common species at Stobswood and indeed the the surrounding area. A few ringing sessions with Iain as usual proved educational with a good number of birds rung incorporating a good array of species including Lesser Whitethroat, Goldcrest, Blackcap, Reed Bunting, Willow Warbler and Sedge Warbler. Here a few Dragonflies also put on a good show, helping pass the time amongst the quieter spells. Migrant Hawker was a new species for me whilst the resident Common Darters were as usually very active. 

Yet another Migrant
Rather proud of this one.
Lesson of the day "How to sex goldcrests"
Chiffchaff with an abnormal bill.