Saturday, 28 April 2012


The last few days of apparently 'poor weather' has added several new species for the year in the county. A drake Garganey and a Little Egret at Druridge Pools both of which were perfect for that well worn info service lingo 'elusive' at times. I've put in a few hours early morning sea-watching and despite decent numbers of passage skuas and Black Terns to the south none of these have materialised off Newbiggin. Despite that I have had some moments, an adult Little Gull blogging offshore with terns and 3 Scaup during one session. Four Red-throated Divers during another.

This morning I found a Hooded Crow at Hemscott Hill early doors mooching around the sheep feeders at the top of the hill. Nearby in the field just north of the causeway at Cresswell Pond a White Wagtail pottered around. Earlier two Swifts were punctual in arriving at the end of April as they moved north over Druridge Pools. Later this morning I counted 8 above the Wansbeck at Castle Island.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Second Bite of the Cherry

Yesterday evening, circumstances conspired to offer me a second bite of the birding cherry for the day. Under plumbeous grey skies I headed north to a deserted East Chevington. From a decidedly damp underfoot bank the north pool produced 2 Common Terns that were new for the year, 4 Great Crested Grebes, 11 Goldeneyes and what I took to be the same Black-tailed Godwit as I'd spied at Druridge Pools earlier in the day. A single Short-eared Owl skirted the edges, occasionally dropping onto a fencepost, giving me the chance to test the reach of the phone/scope combination once again; this one was at c.300m I reckon.

Behind me a male Wheatear along another fence-line and a male Stonechat on phragmites in the channel.
The south pool was inundated with hirundines c.100 Sand Martins and c.30 Swallows jostling for position. A Sparrowhawk flew south nearby.

Back to Bothal Pond, via Lynemouth Flash where a flock of 28 Linnets were the giddy avian highlight, and a scan around the muddy edges revealed a single Little Ringed Plover whilst in the horse paddocks to the south another Wheatear had been grounded by the showers and was adorning yet another fence post in the distance.

'Northern' Bullfinch

Faffing about with the Iphone4 sound recorder whilst out birding yesterday and when I got home I started going through the files I had from the previous phone and discovered the recording below that I had completely forgotten about; made from the upstairs window of the house on 9th February this year of two Bullfinches (though only one is calling I think) that had been visiting the garden over a few days and I suspected were 'Northern' Bullfinches. Comparing this trumpet call to others of ssp.pyrrhula on Xeno-Canto seems to confirm it (at least to my one good ear). If anyone has any thoughts feel free...

Saturday, 21 April 2012


Maybe it's an age thing, maybe it's just sheer laziness but I seem to have fallen into a pattern when visiting Newbiggin of needing to spend the first hour sea-watching. It certainly has nothing to do with insight into optimum weather conditions, I'm equally as likely to park myself at Church Point in a north-easterly as I am in a light west wind. The latter of course flies in the face of conventional east coast sea-watching wisdom and the very occasional nugget of quality that this has unearthed over the years is hardly likely to change that. That leaves me happy enough in the quiet of the morning, safe in the knowledge that I'm only going to get crowded out about four days a year.
So without any real expectation other than perhaps a new tern or a year tick Manxie I did what I do, again this morning. For the best part of an hour it was what it was, a few Sandwich Terns, a steady trickle of Fulmars, a few Shags and some common wildfowl. Circumstances collided with expectations when two Arctic Terns moved south before I swung my scope a little south and caught sight of a grebe just as it dived. A minute or so later and said grebe turned into that occasional nugget of quality when it reappeared as an 18 carat summer plumaged Slavonian Grebe. Despite being relatively common in winter just 40 miles further up the coast Slavs have been surprisingly elusive at Newbiggin, and are far from guaranteed annually.
The golf course next, produced next to nothing, Chiffchaff on the Ash Lagoons and Wheatear on the practice area (only my second of the year) and some company from JGS. The new plantations held singing Willow Warbler and a Blackcap sang from brambles on the Mound.

With a four year old waiting expectantly for the taxi to dancing class I just had time to nip up the coast to Druridge Pools to look for Garganey, again with the same results as the last few days, nada, though at least on this occasion there was something new to look at in the form of an islandica Black-tailed Godwit. Not popular with some of the local Lapwings it was getting a bit of a chasing every now and again but did give me an excuse to crank up the new Iphone4 for some 'slightly less than before' dodgyscoping.

Friday, 13 April 2012

The New

A week since my last post and I have barely seemed to have a minute to spare. I worked over Easter weekend so did little birding. Easter Monday we took the kids to see an animated feature about Pirates & Scientists featuring Charles Darwin and a plot centred around the last Dodo. I nodded off early on but caught the last half hour, the kids seemed to enjoy it and there were a few jokes for the grown ups.

This week with the kids on holiday has flown by with a few new birds for the year thrown into the mix. A couple of hours updating NTBC posters in various hides on Wednesday produced a single Little Ringed Plover that remained still long enough to be Iphonescoped and produce at least a recognisable image. Two White Wagtails were at the same site.

Yesterday with rain entrenched at the coast and an inland forecast that looked drier I nipped over to Kielder to look for Ospreys and Mandarin. Success on both fronts with six of the latter on the river around Ridley Stokoe along with a couple of pairs of Goosanders and a singing Willow Warbler. I find these very skittish and they don't hang around long if you start crashing through the undergrowth along the riverbank.

The weather forecast was hopelessly inaccurate and it moved between gentle drizzle to full on cats and dogs on a recurring ten minute cycle for much of the afternoon. Bakethin still has 2 Whooper Swans and 10 Sand Martins charged about though I failed to find any other hirundines. Kielder's Ospreys or at least one of them showed, albeit as a brown and white topped smudge through the grey rain standing on (it could have been tied to) the post beside the nest. No display so an underwhelming year tick.
Not one to be disheartened I headed elsewhere and found another Osprey at a site that could well be a future breeding site in the county. Given that the weather had improved and I was substantially closer I managed some record shots. After watching it perched a while from the car to avoid disturbing it, two Common Buzzards appeared and it seemed to get a little nervous and took off, keeping an eye on the neighbours all the while.

 A couple of miles to the east I stumbled on a tidy flock of Golden Plovers, 98 in total some well into summer plumage and looking stunning. some of these were well marked and may have been altifrons or 'Northern' individuals.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Approaching Easter

Sun sliding out of the sea, a relatively traffic free A1 and Thursday morning had barely shaken the sleep from its eyes and I was on an empty causeway to Holy Island. A Short-eared Owl watched my progress from the tank traps at Beal and another headed towards The Snook. Sandwiched between them a cracking male Peregrine readied himself for the day ahead atop a large stranded tree-trunk 50m off the causeway.

At a deserted Chare Ends I quickly tracked down three Lapland Buntings including a smart male just coming into summer plumage. Feeding with Skylarks and a single Meadow Pipit in the north-east corner of the field, I parked myself behind the bus stop and spent a pleasant half hour in a silent world of my own as they pottered along through the furrows, appearing and disappearing intermittently.

Heading down past the Rocket Fields I scanned back across the harbour into St. Cuthbert's Channel and was delighted to see a couple of small groups of Long-tailed Ducks basking in the morning sun along with some superb looking Shags and over 100 Grey Seals. Inspired I headed for The Lough, watched all the way by Meadow Pipit after Meadow Pipit adorning the dry stone walls.

The Lough quiet with 3 Little Grebes I moved on to Emmanuel Head where 2 Sandwich Terns and a single Red-throated Diver lingered offshore. The walk back to Chare Ends was quiet with only a couple of Reed Buntings around the willows at the end of the Straight Lonnen.

By now the tourists were massing in the car park and there was a steady stream of folk passing me as I headed back to the car. At the Beal end of the causeway 40 Whooper Swans were towards the sluice and at least three alien-like shimmering shapes over the sand were the ghosts of Pale-bellied Brent Geese yet to depart.

Later that morning I heard a Green Woodpecker just over the border at Hutton Mill Bridge and 3 Buzzards patrolled the treetops of the steep sided valley. On the border at Union Bridge six Sand Martins provided a welcome sign that at least some seem to have made it back in a worryingly late arrival; below them 8 Goldeneyes hugged the bank and each other in a tight group as they dived in the smooth dark water.


Today the rest of the family met kin at Beamish. I couldn't face the Easter melee so dropped them off and high tailed it west towards Derwent Reservoir. I kicked around a little just over the border west of Shotley Bridge. Best here were 20 Crossbills coming down to drink near Blue House Farm. Nearby 3 Jays fed amongst roadside trees along Pike Hill. Other roadside sightings included another Jay and 2 Red-legged Partridges at Shotleyfield.

Derwent was quiet, 4 Great Crested Grebes on the Northumberland side, anything that may have been in the nature reserve area had moved off as the owners of a nearby camper van parked 20m from the 'nature reserve no entry' sign had decided to climb two fences and take a wander across the nature reserve, presumably to see some nature...