Monday, 30 June 2014

Last Week of June

This time last week I was sat in the sauna-like heat of the Pyle hide at Gosforth Park NR waiting for a second glimpse of the male Little Bittern that was making less frequent appearances than a Hen Harrier at the Game Fair. A juvenile Water Rail entertained as did the banter. To be honest I doubt that neither ADMc or I expected to connect as quickly as we did with the first flyby occurring within about 20-25 minutes of arriving within the hide.

A couple of short seawatches toward the end of the week produced little, a single 1st-summer Little Gull, some small movements of Manx Shearwaters and by the end of the week three returning adult Red-throated Divers on the sea off Church Point. Most notable was the continuous feeding movement of Herring Gulls that counts on one day suggested was at a rate of 600/hour north. The Ash Lagoon banks were quiet though a pair of Bullfinches were my first on the moor this year.

After a weekend at work with the usual liberal dose of kids activities, I quickly knocked off some food hopping this morning and spent a quick hour at Castle Island ahead of a lunchtime meeting with Blanaid Denman from the RSPB Skydancer Project to chat about Hen Harrier Day.

Plenty of birds though little by way of quality, a single Green Sandpiper the pick of the bunch, Lapwing post-breeding numbers already up to 60, 17 loafing Cormorants, 8 Grey Herons, a first brood of Tufted Ducks (9) boosted numbers with a 50+ count of adults. Shelduck appear to have had a decent breeding season with at least 30 young of varying sizes around the island. A single GreylagxCanada hybrid in the Canada Goose flock.

Tonight another hour at Church Point produced a single Great Skua north along with 15 Manx Shearwaters and a pale morph small skua sp. on the horizon.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

12th June - The Right Prat

Thursday I was working, things were slow as it's that summer doldrum time when half the birders are doing dragonflies, moths and butterflies and the other half aren't doing anything. When a call came in from Hector Galley who had already reported a Great White Egret and the feral Red-breasted Goose from Hauxley NR that morning saying 'we've got a pratincole from the Tern hide at Hauxley' I quickly weighed up that I could spend the next 10 or 15 minutes trying to help with the ID over the phone or alternatively I could jump in the car and try and help with the ID in the field it seemed like a no-brainer.

Arriving in the car park I bumped into a nonchalant-looking Dave Dack strolling back to his car, thinking he had the prat in the bag and was playing it cool I shouted over 'Well what the **** is it'?' To which DD replied something like 'Great White Egret' at which point the confusion became apparent. We both then did that very fast walk that you do when you're too old to run but there's a big tick waiting for you somewhere.

EditDave contacted me after I wrote the post and reminded me that when we met and I told him about the pratincole he told me that he had (independently) seen what he was certain was a pratincole from the hide directly opposite the Tern hide. Without a scope and very brief views he was unable to confirm the identification and had set-off back to the car at which point we met.

At the rather full hide first look at the pratincole, on a rock roosting and occasionally turning its head I was immediately struck by two features, how little red the bird had on its bill and the black lores and dark-looking forehead. My mouth ran away with me 'Dave this looks like a Black-winged'... I rattled off some phone-scoped images and watched as the bird got up, preened a little and got a bit of a kicking by a couple of Lapwings.

Back at the office the bird had flown south after I left, a holding message of 'either/or' Collared/Black-winged had gone out. Looking through the images all the features were pointing to Black-winged, DD was back on the phone he was sure it had been Black-winged too. Flight shots arrived on email from an obliging Tim Mason, no trace of a trailing white edge and an apparent all-black underwing, a quick circulation of images to others with more experience of the group and no dissent, Black-winged Pratincole it was. A great find by Helen Mearns, first record for Northumberland

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

4th June - Grreat

I was in the cake aisle when I felt a stirring in my left trouser pocket. The brief message on the phone from 'Lucky' Andy cut short the weekly deliberations over Sticky Toffee or Lemon Drizzle and I hurried to the checkout.

Having ignored last year's county Great Reed Warbler until it was too late I was keen to do exactly the opposite this morning. Shopping dumped at home I pulled up at the farm entrance to find ADMc back at the car with news the bird had flown into the northeast corner of the phragmites. We spent the next half hour on the road and wall (unlisted) and had some brief views of a large looking acro and maybe even a fragment of song but nothing that was really conclusive.

I headed for the hide and set up camp in the hope it would repeat its early morning performance. Forty minutes later and a few folk had turned up and were watching from the road in fairly heavy rain including Andrew Kinghorn and Rob Stonehouse. We exchanged some polite text messages and they had apparently seen the bird fly back south into some nearer reeds. Not long after on the pool side of the reeds sure enough up popped the giant acro and spent the next hour showing extremely well along the reed edge 30-40m from the hide, mostly in heavy rain.