Saturday, 31 May 2014

30th May - Last Knockings?

All seemed relatively quiet yesterday with almost all the birds encountered common breeding species. No sign of the Greenish Warbler from yesterday morning, luckily I've had two before at Newbiggin as I wouldn't want it as a full fat tick on the one brief snatch of song I heard before it went forever quiet (not my find and other obs had views, song and call).

Another flycatcher today, much more co-operative than the last one, added Spotted Flycatcher to the patch year list. Aside from that it was all Whitethroats, Linnets and a single Mallard in the tipping marsh.

Monday, 26 May 2014

25th/26th May - The Good, the Bad and The Ugly.

The Bank Holiday weekend has been interesting, I've worked some of the last three days so birding has been slotted around that and family and with mixed luck it's been a real rollercoaster.

Last night I grabbed an hour to walk the dog and getting down to the first Ash Lagoon scrub almost immediately had a bird fly-catching silhouetted against the evening sky and through a tangle of branches. Any flycatcher species was going to be a patch year tick. It settled briefly, though still obscured, before pitching into the thick hawthorn/elder nearby and not re-appearing despite me hanging about for half an hour. I headed back this morning and had another hour on site but couldn't produce anything more interesting than a Chiffchaff. Have a look at the two heavily cropped images and make your own mind up as to what i let slip, do note the eye-ring in the first image though.

A little pissed at getting up really early for nothing more than a Chiffchaff I headed down to Castle Island to check for waders or big white herons. Walking down the path behind the houses built on the old miner's welfare site I was not a little surprised when first one then two Tree Sparrows appeared on the path, in front of me. Put into context I've birded here since 1989 (even in my wilderness years I'd visit a few times each year) and never had Tree Spug. They were collecting food so presumably are breeding fairly close, perhaps even in the mature trees that now form a garden for the houses built there.
The island itself was fairly quiet with little or no mud exposed, I noticed a bit of commotion on the south side, a brood of Shelducks scattering from a lone... Egyptian Goose. Presumably the individual that has been wandering the Northumberland coast in recent weeks and was last reported on the Aln Estuary a few days ago. Another new bird for the site and a tarty county tick to boot as I've never attempted to twitch any of the recent individuals.

Time to head home, I cut through the housing estate at Ashington to get onto the A1068 and check Cooper's Flash as I headed back.It was warm now and with two fleeces on I was feeling the heat so the window was down. Approaching Cooper's Flash I heard a Whitethroat singing and glanced across to a bird sat on the top of a hawthorn; thankfully no one was behind me as the car lurched across the road to a halt. The car was slammed into reverse and sure enough sat astride the hawthorn was a spanking male Red-backed Shrike that promptly flew over the car and pitched into a hedge on the other side of the road. Scope out it was working its way west along the hedge and by now was a little distant.

Within a couple of minutes it had disappeared over the brow of the rise. I headed around to the public footpath at the top of Bothal Bank and walked east trying to intercept it but as later reports suggest it obviously returned to original area as I had no further joy.

Home and late morning post-breakfast dog walk, Joel and I cut north to Longhirst and back in a loop to Pegswood. Singing Lesser Whitethroat and Garden Warbler on the road home the highlights. Not 200m from home I glanced up to the east and noticed a pale-looking raptor thermalling. A quick dash to the car boot for the scope and we both enjoyed decent views of an Osprey as it drifted in lazy circles, skirting the village and moving off  northwest toward Longhirst Golf Course, a 'garden tick' and not a little pleasing after many hours spent watching the skies to the east of us for just such movements in Spring.

Friday, 23 May 2014

23rd May Tundra Ringed Plovers

With little happening on land and the rain-filled northerly blow making it feel like early March as opposed to the cusp of summer I trudged a short circuit of the moor without seeing a migrant. A short sea-watch (45mins) produced 13 Manx Shearwaters north and 3 Common Scoters north as well as a 1st-summer Red-throated Diver offshore.

I took the long way home and called at Lynemouth Flash, here a drake Shoveler and 3 Gadwall though best was a small party of eight Ringed Plovers several of the latter identifiable as tundrae race birds.

Slightly smaller, round-headed appearance and a shade darker mantle marked out some of the group, though one or two were possibly best left as just Ringo's.

 Ringed Plover, female, tundrae race
Ringed Plover, male, tundrae race
 Ringed Plover, female, tundrae race
Ringed Plover, male, possible tundrae race (female in background)

Thursday, 22 May 2014

21st May - Wry Luck

Another quiet morning with apparently no migrants, I had resigned myself to photographing juvenile Starlings that were noisily crashing about everywhere until a bird flicked up from low on the Ash Lagoon bank and turned out to be a late Spring Wryneck. It didn't stay on show long, flying up into the taller trees at the back of the scrub where I fired off a few bursts on the camera before getting the news out. I looked up from the phone and the bird had disappeared, despite a 20 minute sit it never showed again.
A singing Garden Warbler near the Woodhorn hedge was also new on the patch for the year.

There's worse birds to write your 1000th blog post about I guess....

Tuesday, 20 May 2014

10th-20th May

We seemed to have slipped into summer, warmer days, juveniles of many common species appearing and a quiet spell as far as migration goes. Recent days I had a sea-watch that consisted mainly of hirundine movement with over 50 Swallows and 8 House Martins north in two hours. One or two singing Garden Warblers including one locally in the mature shelter belt in phase 1 of the community park.

 Pegswood CP Phase II (opening soon)
Sea-watcher remains at Newbiggin

Yesterday I headed up country for a little walk across the top of the Simonside ridge from east to west. Little in the way of birds, a male Wheatear singing and dancing in the morning sun. A Common Whitethroat  singing just 100m below the Simonside cairn.

Today back in the lowlands I tried to look for waders on the Wansbeck and Blyth Estuaries with limited success. Castle Island yielded a blank for waders, a Common Tern here was first this year at this site, a 1st-summer drake Red-breasted Merganser and two broods of Mallard (x8 and x11) noted.
On the Blyth estuary another 1st-summer drake Red-breasted Merganser, a smattering of Curlew, two Common Terns, a good count of Crows (38) and 24 presumably non-breeding Black-tailed Godwits in the sheep field on the north side of the estuary.

Friday, 9 May 2014

9th May

This morning started with a single Greenshank west of Ashington on a small muddy flash. At Woodhorn Swifts were finally around in numbers and the Sedge Warbler numbers are certainly up this year with seven singing males around the flashes. A Grasshopper Warbler was reeling briefly east of the iron bridge.

A walk out to Beacon Point to check through the high tide roost provided my first Common Tern of the year among 54 roosting Sandwich Terns. Three Turnstones still about with a few 1st-summer Oystercatchers.

A little loop drive home with a stop at Druridge Pools netted four Black-tailed Godwits and 10+ Whimbrels. Another Greenshank was heard calling at West Stobswood.

Thursday, 8 May 2014

4th-8th May

Much time spent online researching the warbler from Saturday so not a huge amount of time in field in recent days. A couple of new patch year ticks in the form of Common Swift - a late arrival this year up here, in addition Alan Priest found a cracking drake Garganey on Summerhouse Lane on 8th and luckily I was nearby at Castle Island so caught up with it just before it flew north into the reedbed at the back of the south pool.

Another drake Garganey was on Cooper's Flash again today (8th) and Lesser Whitethroats have been singing in the Woodhorn Flashes and Spital Burn areas. Encouragingly Grey Partridges have been prominent with at least three pairs around the patch and a single bird.

I also nipped up to take in the Woodchat Shrike at Hemscott Hill found by a visiting birder and a nice addition to the '10km from home list' As I type there's a bit of a heavy downpour on a muggy night, there may well be some waders on local ponds so an evening session may be on the cards.

Sunday, 4 May 2014

3rd May - Weekend Went

Woken by the local dawn chorus as a result of leaving a window open I headed out early for a look at the sea. The sea was still there which was a good thing as there wasn't much else to grab my attention. A patch year-tick Whimbrel flying north failed to respond to luring despite me whistling several times.

By 7:15 frankly I was desperate and thoughts of egg butties and a cup of tea in the garden were beginning to push into the edges of my thinking. It was shite, I hadn't even seen a Swallow, the distant song from the now established Common Whitethroat at the south end of the Ash Lagoon did little to spur me on. I decided to have a quick kick around the burnt gorse and then head off, maybe home, maybe somewhere different.

Walking along the path as Linnet after Linnet pinged away over the gorse I heard a funny short rattle, sort of Greenfinch or maybe Lesser Whitethroat-ish. My hearing's not the best so I started scanning the scrub, Whitethroat,  then a phyllosc flicked across the bush, then that trill again, re-scan and the rattle/trill is coming from the phyllosc. Then into the bush and I can hear it for a minute but can't see it. Then it starts working it's way up and it's wing-quivering when it gives the rattle.

Confused I started trying to work my brain through the options, half expecting the trill to turn into something more recognisable. Getting better front-end views it obviously wasn't a mis-singing Wood Warbler, as it was fairly plain-looking, white underneath but no lemon yellow on the breast or super. As I was stumbling about trying to get Xeno-Canto open ( the site was down all morning) up rocked Eric Barnes who thankfully had the songs of both Eastern and Western Bonelli's Warbler on his phone. A brief couple of minutes later and we had agreed that the bird was a perfect match for Western Bonelli's Warbler on song and plumage and started getting news out.

Over the next half hour the bird performed magnificently on a short circuit around the scrub, often active and feeding but also spending several periods in one place, preening and on one occasion stock still for over a minute peering intently underneath its perch. By 09-30-09:35 it had gone quiet and was never relocated after that as far as I know, perhaps seven others managed to get there in that time and see the bird.

After publishing the video and song recordings, online discussion and consultations with some very experienced individuals with this species pairing (Magnus Robb and Dick Groenendijk) a different identification conclusion was reached to the one we reached in the field. More to follow!

Friday, 2 May 2014

2nd May - Like a 20 Year Marriage

After yesterday's rain I wasn't alone in thinking that there may be some action out there today. As it turned out the patch was like a 20 year marriage, it hinted at better days with the occasional flash of a white arse. 16 white arses in total; five between the railway line and the west paddock and 11 on the moor.

A short sea-watch added Little Tern to the patch year list and three Red-throated Divers were still catching crabs in the breakers. A single Tufted Duck roosting on the sea with Common Scoters  was slightly incongruous.