Friday, 28 November 2014


It has been a definite case of quality over quantity this month with not much time in the field but those hours I have put in have been very rewarding. With the ongoing influx of Rough-legged Buzzards into the country it was only a matter of time before more were found in Northumberland and on the back of two reports of a bird above the Harthope Valley ADMc and I noted a window in the weather on 13th and headed up.

Walking in up the Hawsen Burn was a damp affair, a Dipper flushed up the burn which we both expressed surprise at, previous experience suggesting they tend to be on the main river during the winter months. The occasional Red Grouse hurled itself across the valley and a single Common Buzzard hung above the south side briefly. By the time we reached the gate below Broad Hope Red Grouse numbers had increased dramatically with flocks of 20-30 birds flushing from the path side moor as we walked. We counted well over 100 on the walk south including a very nice leucistic individual.

A raggy piece of paper flapping from a lone rowan managed to do a passable Great Grey Shrike impression on bins views and then a few minutes later we picked up a distant buzzard sp. hovering some 2km away to the south. In flat light we kept glimpsing a huge white upper tail and rump contrasting with a narrow black tail band as it twisted in the air. Closing some of the distance we were left in no doubt that it was a juvenile Rough-legged Buzzard.

With one of the local shepherds buzzing about nearby the RLB dropped below the ridge and was lost to view. Despite waiting for another hour it didn't reappear. We had plenty to occupy ourselves with at least one, probably two, Peregrines passing through, several Common Buzzards and a Stonechat for company.

A we headed back Andy picked up another individual with a white rump though this time the tail band was much thicker. The bird dropped onto the wall of a sheep circle so we started walking back to close the distance. On the deck it was very dark bellied but we couldn't really make too much of it. Eventually it got back up and we got some fantastic flight views confirming it as the second Rough-legged Buzzard of the day though the very wide tail band caused a bit of head-scratching and we managed to fluff the aging of this one until we got back and reviewed pictures.

After watching this individual hunting and resting for the best part of an hour we headed back at pace toward the car as I had to get back to pick the kids up. Approaching the gate above the Hawsen Burn we flushed another juvenile Rough-legged Buzzard from the moor not 15m from the path, it hung 20feet in the air for what seemed an age before drifting silently away up Broad Hope.

Fast forward to Monday and news of an Isabelline Wheatear in Cleveland, Yorkshire Durham had us heading down the A19 early doors still shaking the sleep from our eyes. We soon woke up as the acrid smell of the Zinc Works attacked our throats as we stumbled the couple of hundred metres onto the beach to join the 30-40 other early arrivals watching the bird. Confiding and curious, never more than 40m away it fed in a loop on the beach regularly approaching to within 5m of the short line. You couldn't want for a rare to perform better.

 " I could have picked anywhere and I ended up on Teeside!"
 John Malloy getting to grips...

We completed a decent day by dropping into Whitley Bay for a quick look at the Brier Dene Hume's Warbler that had been found over the weekend. Typically fast and furious around the last of the autum's sycamore leaves it proved difficult to capture anything decent with a 400mm lens without trampling vegetation.