Saturday, 30 July 2011

Back to Black

The Storm Petrels have gone, as silently as they appeared they've drifted away. My last one was yesterday afternoon (29th). With it the crowds that descended upon Newbiggin have melted away too. I've spent the last two seawatches in blissful silence other than the occasional call from a passing tern and the constant begging calls of juvenile Guillemots coming from the sea.

The main attraction may have moved on but there is still plenty to see and be found. Yesterday produced a late afternoon adult Mediterranean Gull, another sublime Sooty Shearwater, sleek and sexy on calm seas, effortlessly coasting north. Top marks though to a feeding juvenile Black Tern watched for 10 minutes as it dip fed with a small flock of Arctic Terns moving north, the only disappointment was it wasn't closer to shore. I can't say I've seen one feed at sea before, previous sightings have either been flybys or inland.

There was no repeat this morning but another two Sooty Shearwaters slipped past as did 28 Manx Shearwaters, 5 Great Skuas  and 4 Arctic Skuas. I did a quick count of roosting Great Black-backed Gulls before I left of which 253 were loitering on the rocks at Church Point and probably a further 100 at Beacon Point.

Castle Island produced a single Green Sandpiper (still there this morning) and 69 Cormorants loafing around the island and the various sunken trees. A Greenshank was the only new addition there this morning.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Talking Up A Storm

There is an old Irish saying "The day of the storm is not the day for thatching"; taken literally it means if you haven't done any seawatching this weekend you bloody well should have done. With a North wind occasionally switching NNW and dry and sunny it's been blissful; a slow start Saturday morning gradually came good with an exceptionally strong passage of Storm Petrels from Durham north.

Newton Stringer kicked it off with a couple of decent Stormies last night up at Beadnell, whilst at the Naples of the North (Newbiggin) we were enjoying a Sooty Shearwater that almost brushed our toes as it breezed north.

A second early start this morning saw the floodgates open with my personal tally of 15 Storm Petrels and 11 Great Skuas heading north. Three hours this afternoon added a further 10 Storm Petrels though there were more I missed, a further five Sooty Shearwaters, 6 drake Velvet Scoters, several Little Gulls a Roseate Tern and 50+ Manx Shearwaters.

Whilst the early Storm Petrel sightings were frustratingly brief as they vanished into the deep troughs between waves patience paid off with longer views, eventually some closer and feeding birds allowed us to see the white rump and the white on the underwing on a number of individuals.Circuit feeding, foot paddling was all noted though most unusual was one piece of behaviour this afternoon I've never witnessed before.

Richard Dunn and I were both watching a loose collection of large gulls and tighter Kittiwake flock well offshore when two Storm Petrels appeared to come up from the sea to around 10m in height and at least one continued to build height rapidly before being lost against the blue sky. Was this some kind of escape behaviour to avoid the attentions of the large gulls? (comments and alternate theories not involving House Martins welcome).

An update from Mark Newsome at Whitburn highlights that they have "smashed the county record for Storm Petrels" today and further north there has been at least one Balearic Shearwater seen from two locations.

My Personal tally for Saturday/Sunday as follows:

Storm Petrel 25
Sooty Shearwater 8
Velvet Scoter 6
Little Gull 3
Great Skua 16
Arctic Skua 15
Roseate Tern 1
Manx Shearwater 88
Red-throated Diver 1
Tufted Duck 1
Great Crested Grebe 2

With at least 12 other birders in attendance at various times, the crack was almost as good as the sea at times.The combination of deckchairs new and old along with enough grey hair to fill a Saga tour bus was a heart-warming sight, even the silver fox himself put in an appearance to triple the expletive count in under an hour, happy days.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Golden Hour Balearic

One of the pioneers of seawatching at Newbiggin used to call it 'The Golden Hour' - an hour late afternoon that was the most promising of the latter part of the day for rare and scarce seabirds.
Having discharged my responsibilities as a parent doing the end of term performance, leaver's assembly and barbecue complete with a barbaric parents v kids netball game (I chickened out), I acted on the lunchtime weather forecast showing light winds but at least with arrows in the right direction.

The sea was too calm for seawatching to be serious and a small trickle of Manx Shearwaters over the next 20 minutes reinforced the point. Then about 800m out moving north just beyond the flag line another shearwater lacking the obvious white underparts of the previous eight, staying low, hugging the waves and dispensing with the showy shears my first Balearic Shearwater of the year moved north.

A few minutes later the only Great Skua of the session muscled through at 600-700m range followed ten minutes later by a single pale morph Arctic Skua that skimmed the rocks as it went by before joining two more in the north bay; the three patrolled extracting fish with menaces as far down as the Wansbeck Estuary

Tuesday, 12 July 2011

12th of Not Quite

An hour at the seaside finally yielded a light passage with two male Velvet Scoters the pick of the crop along with five Arctic Skuas. Some distant cetacean action involving two-three breaching White-beaked Dolphins about 2km offshore. A small number of Manx Shearwaters pottered about amongst small feeding parties of Kittiwakes.

As good as it gets from land!

Sunday, 10 July 2011

Med Mystery

I got a text from fellow Newbiggin watcher Steve Holliday yesterday morning alerting me to a further arrival of Mediterranean Gulls at Newbiggin. Steve had counted 22 in total, up by 12 since 4th when I counted 10. I popped down in the afternoon to have a look for ringed birds, though by the time I got their and with the kids in tow I could only find 14. Anyway I spoke to Steve again this morning who was back on the beach and not a single Med was present, so an appeal, if you're out and about and you stumble across some Med Gulls let us know where please as we are both interested as to whether they are moving inland or offshore. Ta.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

Knot the News

I crept to the coast with Cory's on my mind at some ridiculous hour this morning before work. I left after an hour convinced of a Cornish/Irish conspiracy to pummel us into submission with their incredible counts. Kittiwakes are nice though and I saw quite a few this morning.
With an hour to spare and a high tide I headed for the staithes wader roost which held a single summer plumaged Knot, my first of the 'autumn'. Emails later in the day suggested a small arrival with four also at East Chevington.
Castle Island continues to be attractive to a single Black-tailed Godwit.
Post-work another hour staring at a dark sea with some impressive rainstorms over Newcastle and Durham. A marginal improvement on this morning produced two Arctic Skuas north and four Whimbrel south.

Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Sexier Than A Jockstrap Full of Sand Eels

Warm. That's what the weather people said of yesterday so what better than a bit plodge in the sea I thought. I've just noticed the Firefox spellcheck doesn't like the word plodge, now if I was Tom Mckinney I could take off at a tangent and convince my US readers that plodging is a heinous act of gross indecency involving sand eels but I'm not Tom and I only have three US readers that I know of so on with the show.

Where was I? Beach, plodging, barefoot kids. Close by a small flock of Black-headed Gulls lingered along the shoreline, occasionally picking at the green slimy seaweed half-heartedly. Amongst them a single adult Mediterranean Gull looking rather sexier than a jockstrap full of sand eels. One would assume that given the proximity to Coquet Island there may be some good news regarding breeding forthcoming at some point. Later as the kids did a bit of beachcombing a few minutes scan offshore produced two Arctic Skuas a dark morph that came in low and landed on the sea, closely followed by an intermediate morph, both looked adult-ish though the heat haze prevented me ageing them with any huge degree of certainty.

We did Druridge Bay Country Park next. Let me rearrange that sentence. We were done at Druridge Bay Country Park next. £1.40 minimum parking charge so my kids could have a half hour in the park, so much for encouraging folk to get outdoors Northumberland County Council.
East Chevington on the other hand was free, a single 1st-summer Little Gull the highlight of the north pool though we did manage both male and female Marsh Harriers whilst on site.

Kids in bed I slid out to Newbiggin for a quick look on the sea, choppy and little movement with c.60 Common Scoters the only notable. A long scan of the south bay produced 10 Mediterranean Gulls, 4 adults and 6 1st-summers. The evening ended with some excellent views of a hunting Long-eared Owl that had been reported to me the previous evening (thanks Paul).

Today being the kids regular swimming day, as opposed to an infrequent plodging day, little opportunity to get anywhere, A quick afternoon jaunt to the island produced a single adult Black-tailed Godwit and 22 Cormorants. However that was eclipsed by a garden mega this evening. I'd just filled the sink and was facing a stinking pile of enchilada encrusted plates when I noticed a movement on the base of the apple tree trunk and you could have rocked me with a sand eel as a Treecreeper crept higher and higher. Presumably post-breeding dispersal this is the first Treecreeper we've had in the garden and I guess along with the appearance of Nuthatch earlier in the year a sign that our trees are maturing.

Sunday, 3 July 2011

Island Groove

I'm kind of getting back into a happy place with one of my former patches at the moment, it's funny how these things come around. Partly pushed by the price of petrol and somewhat seduced by the summer sun I keep finding myself heading that way.

After a lazy day, prompted in part by a late finish after some more Nightjar shenanigans last night with Andy, I headed down to Castle Island early evening. Just to rewind for a second we had some success again last night both hearing a male and having decent views of one Nightjar gliding down the side of the track beside us. The clearing sky ensured light for longer and we must have been in the area until midnight. After first splitting up, Andy heading for the original site where we knew there was at least one pair and me moving off into the adjacent tetrad to search for other territories; we regrouped after an hour. I had drawn a blank but the next tetrad over was much more open with very recent clearfell and perhaps not as suitable. Andy had already heard a churring male but without any sight records, though we quickly put that right after walking back along the original track again.

Tonight then, Castle Island, the water level surprisingly higher than the past few days so either the tide has been high and topped the weir or the weir has been closed to retain more water. A single adult Spoonbill remains; a Common Sandpiper the only passage wader tonight but an interesting and probable patch tick (I need to check) in the form of a Jay that flushed from the end of the dene on the south bank by a couple of families with kids and flew off upriver

Meeting The Man From Glossop

One of the good things about blogging and birding is meeting other birders. Whilst I'm not that keen on big crowds and big twitches the opportunity to wander around some of the local sites here in Northumberland with birders from outside the area is one I'll rarely pass up. I've been lucky over the past year, partly courtesy of organising NTBC Indoor Meetings and partly due to blogging, to meet up with a diverse array of interesting birders such as Steve Rutt, Martin Garner, Nick Moran and Alan & Ruth Davies.

When I noticed that renowned bird blogger Tom Mckinney was in the area I couldn't resist dropping him a message suggesting we meet up. For those that may not have come across the name, Tom was responsible for what is regarded as one of the seminal personal birding 'blogs', taking what is best described as a very individual outlook on his birding and writing. Tom currently blogs once a week at the multi-authored Birding Blogs and is also a panel member of the birding equivalent of The Archers at Charlie Moores Talking Naturally Conference Calls.

Sadly a chipped tooth two weeks ago came home to haunt me and I woke up Friday with an abscess necessitating an urgent dental appointment (Where's Jimmy when you need him eh?) so time was cut short to a couple of hours. Despite this a visit to Castle Island gave us a bit of time to catch up with a single Spoonbill, Ruff  and Green Sandpiper. We chewed the cud, talked raptor persecution, the cost of twitching, blogging, tried not to talk about that birdforum thread and generally had an entertaining morning.

Finally I'd like to thank Tom for providing an exclusive gig performed from the boot of my car in Church Point car park. Sadly I would have liked to bring you the music to enjoy but the lack of a bandwidth sponsor prevents me from doing so. 

Tom Mckinney Unplugged at Newbiggin