A very fine Spring morning held huge promise and I decided that I'd re-visit a couple of my past 'patches' and see what I could rustle up in the way of migrants.
First stop was Castle Island, now a LNR on the River Wansbeck that I first birded from 1988-1991 and had some excellent birds there, Alpine Swift, Terek Sandpiper, Great White Egret amongst them. Parked up near the cemetery I was amazed at how much the scrub has grown on the walk down, Common Chiffchaff, Willow Warbler & Blackcap all sang nearby.
I arrived at the Island and viewed from high on the bank. The island has been hit hard or at least the vegetation has, presumably by last September's floods. What used to be a very grassy island with a mix of short turf and long grass is almost bare mud. Three Canada Geese were sitting on nests that look very exposed as a result. A single Common Snipe was the only bird of note.
I headed off to Newbiggin and on the spur of the moment pulled off North Seaton roundabout onto the new 'Ashwood Business Park'. This occupies former farmland that used to be a regular site for a large flock of Lapwing & Golden Plover during the winter months.
I drove down the new roads and empty open rough grass to the south end and spotted a Northern Wheatear, and another, and another till there were four, two male and two female.
This site looks promising for Larks & Pipits only 700m from the sea.
I pushed on to Newbiggin Golf Course and after a calling Meadow Pipit the first bird was another Northern Wheatear.This was promising, a male Common Stonechat clung to the top of Gorse a few metres further and another bird with a supercilium flew up onto the Ash Lagoon bank. Scope out I just caught the streaked back of a female Whinchat before it flew up and over the top.
Further along the Ash Lagoon banks in the scrubby areas a Willow Warbler fed rapidly suggesting fresh arrival. A small bramble held a reeling Grasshopper Warbler unlike yesterday's this one was loud and out there giving excellent views. A while later as I came back 150m further out from the bank I could still hear it and see it with bins at the top of the bramble.
I hugged the perimeter fence North and then turned in after the Gorse and came back around past the patch that once contained a Spring Bird Race Bluethroat. Sadly today that was not the case.
As I crossed the centre ditch that runs East to West across the Golf Course and can act as funnel for migrants with it's rough edges I spotted another Wheatear on the south side.
I sat and within a few minutes counted ten Northern Wheatear on that quiet slightly rougher patch of old moor away from the fairway.
They were my last noteworthy birds on the Golf Course. I drove inland back to Woodhorn Church, another site with a tremendous track record, although mainly for The Professor.
I was looking for slightly less auspicious visitors this morning as it can be good for Lesser Whitethroat in Spring too. A couple of Goldfinch tinkled at me from across the road as I arrived and a Blackcap sang from one of the tall Sycamores. I kept hearing some subdued churring and a Common Whitethroat soon popped up to briefly spark into song. I wasn't convinced though. I hung around the recently planted roadside looking a little out of place until another scrubby, scratchy voice, that of my first Sedge Warbler of the year eventually gave way to some short song. A bit of a crouch and stealth and I soon had it in sight as it flicked from branch to branch low in the decorative shrubbery.
The journey home provided an unexpected birder with ADMC on bike near Longhirst Flash. Thirty minutes of chinwag later and now late for work I headed home content with three year ticks and the knowledge that at least one of my old patches can still deliver.
Northern Wheatear Paul Roberts
Whinchat & Sedge Warbler Sergey Yelisleev
Yellow Wagtail Valter Jacinto