Friday, 30 September 2011

Going South

Events conspired yesterday morning so that Northumberland's first Sandhill Crane found by Eric Barnes as it flew over his head at Newbiggin was off into the distance minutes before I arrived. Sadly the speeding ticket from Sunday's twitch to Aberdeen for self-same bird hasn't vanished.
September remains quiet though there is of course always something of interest. Most may not be aware that Eric was watching a Yellow-browed Warbler on the Ash Lagoon banks when the yank flew over. After checking West Hartford for a possible drop in I headed back to Newbiggin and watched the YBW for a while in the scrub. Active is probably the most appropriate adjective and that combined with needing to stay the right side of the fence due to the ongoing presence of workmen resulted in some poor images with which to brighten this here blog.

Interest comes in many forms, working from the kitchen table yesterday I managed a few garden notables including 3 Common Buzzard soaring over, a Sparrowhawk that was just moving locally and keeping the Chiffchaff company in the Mallow a Goldcrest.

The Chiffchaff (or another) is still charging about today, I think my latest ever garden record, though not surprising given the Mediterranean weather.
The day before saw me catching up with the 1st-winter male ringed Stonechat the first this year (for me) at Newbiggin after the recent hard winters. I wonder how many years it will take them to return and breed?

The best news of the week though has to be that I've been invited to a press familiarisation trip in October in Southern Portugal for five days. Always hard work these trips but I'm looking forward to five long days of Mediterranean birding, masochist that I am.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011


An hour at Castle Island with two of the kids mid-afternoon produced nothing of note, I won't bore you with the counts of Lapwing and Great Black-backed Gull. Suffice to say that as we were heading back along the path a female Goosander had been the highlight of the afternoon.

We headed back down with third child an hour later to try and re-find the small sandpiper sp that flew downriver, landing briefly before being flushed by a dog walker from the shore just before we left. We were unsuccessful with no further sign, another one consigned to the bin! The return trip produced a Kingfisher feeding on the south shore long enough for all three kids to watch it fishing and eating.

Yesterday, three Little Egrets roosting on the south side of the Blyth Estuary and two Jays at West Sleekburn Industrial Estate were the highlights of a non-birding day.

Monday, 26 September 2011

Jack Daniels and the Blackdog Surfers

Despite the protestations of under the thumb trainspotters and the hallucinations and fisherman's tales of others there is just no denying the lure of the yankee crane. A short drive north from my usual haunts (only 47 speed cameras) with Stewart for company quickly passed in the wee hours of Sunday morning.
In the misty morning light, our hearts were thumping as we leapt from the car like salmon after being kindly directed to a convenient parking location near Coralhill by a man in traditional Scottish dress (blue overalls and wellies).
A short walk along the fence line to where the assembled crowds, OK both of them, were crouched like Libyan freedom fighters contemplating their next move, the occasional rattle of a 50d firing off in the distance, and suddenly like a mirage shimmering above the stubble sloped horizon our quarry lifted its head in graceful acknowledgement of our arrival.

Stewart sketched and scribbled whilst I crouched and occasionally fired a volley of shutter clicks and for the best part of 30 minutes we remained at staring distance some 60m away from each other. A young Peregrine sailed past as cool as cucumber just behind us though the confederate crane remained unruffled.

Eventually it managed to entangle a length of straw in its bill and after a little head shaking took off and landed beyond the dunes, we assumed on a fresh water stream running across the beach. It later relocated to the Loch of Strathbeg reserve where we were able to watch it albeit more distantly from the comfort of the Tower Pool hide. 
Good birds should be celebrated and back at the car I broke out the appropriate whisky (Jack Daniels) and we toasted our tick. The car full of birders arriving in the field to the news it had just buggered off to the beach seemed oddly stony-faced at our small celebration.
Jack Daniels aka Boulmer Birder

We squeezed out a couple of Little Stints on the reserve and played top trumps with counts of Ruff before heading back south to the the never-ending beach of Blackdog for some cool surfing (eat your heart out Richard).

We were unable to locate the adult drake Black Scoter amongst the estimated 10,000 birds that stretched as far as the eye could see but we did manage one and probably a brief second drake Surf Scoter off the rifle range as well as meeting Scottish legend Evel Mcnevel practising in the dunes.
The day couldn't have gone much better, great bird, excellent company, good whisky and some bonus surf!

Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Stoatily Gripped

With last night's teasingly close reports of a possible Sooty/Bridled Tern on the Northumberland/Durham Border the bairns, determined to grip off their older brother, twisted my arm and made me arrange a twitch if news was out by the time we dropped him off at school. With no news by 08:45 it was duly cancelled and we headed for Cresswell instead.

A busy hide with two occupants ensured all the available birds were already pinned down and could be swept up quickly though my daughter seemed more intent on sweeping up literally with the hide brush! A non self-found year tick Little Stint later along with a rather short-billed juvenile Curlew Sandpiper and a few Ruff we readied ourself to leave as the phone rang with news that Sooty had turned up on Colt Crag Reservoir.

Should I be ashamed of actually considering letting the kids skip nursery to twitch it? I didn't of course instead spending the morning contacting people I knew were out there and passing info out to those who might waste fuel checking sites that had just been looked at; worked quite well with Sweethope, Capheaton, Colt Crag and Hallington all visited and negative news relayed over the space of an hour.

Kids in nursery I decided to drive down to Derwent on the off chance that Sooty was on a circular route, almost fruitless. Whilst loafing at the roadside at the west end this Stoat wandered over the road and clarted about for a while on the grass verge a few feet away.

Whittle Dene on the road back added little more than 7 Great Crested Grebes and a 3rd-winter Lesser Black-backed Gull that was probably a large male and had me considering michahellis for a short while. Nice to see Mike Richardson (Birds in Northumbria Editor) out in the field here.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

Today's Chip Papers

September, full of promise, my favourite month but 2011 is proving to be a tough challenge. Thursday fine and warm produced a small fall of Wheatears at Newbiggin with perhaps 12 individuals present in the north bay, smaller numbers than further north but one or two looked quite stocky and with the current wind systems there must be at least half a chance that these were Greenland breeders rather than Scandinavian.

Andy pulled out a Merlin that charged through the caravans before banking and building height in pursuit of  a westward bound passerine, it was never in the hunt and quickly gave up and drifted off. Probably the highlight of the morning as we returned with little else to show for the next 2 hours.

Sunday morning after an early and rather fruitless visit to St. Mary's I headed along the Ash Lagoon banks. A steady stream of Swallows and Meadow Pipits tracked south along the slight shelter offered by the tall slopes. I counted 120 Swallows over about 45 minutes and probably missed a few whilst trying to dig out other birds in the scrub. Emerging from an hour long vigil all I could muster was a fresh Lesser Whitethroat  offering welcome relief from the ubiquitous Common Whitethroats present since spring. I think this is probably a Newbiggin year tick for me though I haven''t checked.

Despite the strengthening wind I headed for the beach; low tide and the usual waders around, another half hour working through the 2-300 strong Golden Plover flock (again!). The seaweed on the high tide line was unusually quiet just one lone alba wagtail. With the identification of 1st-winter White Wagtails topical I gave it a second look. Quite pleased I did as I think it's a White Wagtail. 

As I think the images above show, pale grey mantle, crown and forehead; mid-grey rump in the key area between middle two tertials and clean white flanks and belly all point to alba. The greenish/olive cast to the ear coverts and pinkish base to the bill apparently good features for 1st-winter; I don't think there is any moult in the greater coverts, so these are retained juvenile coverts/tertials? I'm posing this as a question as the broad white tips to the greater coverts seem, well, broader than on most of the images available for 1st-winters and maybe more indicative of an adult female?. I found the supercilium extending part way around the back of the ear coverts in 'Citrine-like' fashion quite striking, though maybe I've just not been looking closely enough at these before? Feel free to tell me how wrong I am, it won't be the first (or last) time.

Oh and just to avoid any doubt I've withheld this post for several days to avoid either of these migrants being tape-lured; from what I'm reading there's hundreds of you out there lurking behind every bush and it's all Steve Jobs fault which is the real reason he quit.

Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Rutland Cormorant

I mentioned a colour-ringed Cormorant a few weeks ago at Castle Island, I've had the ringing details back and it was indeed ringed this year at Rutland Water on 11th May as 1 of a brood of four. The sighting of ZR6 was the first since then, a movement of 282km in 82 days.