Sunday, 31 December 2017

Out with a bang!

With just a few hours of daylight left this evening, we decided to head to Druridge Pools in case we could add a final new bird. A look off the dunes was very quiet and it was largely the same from the screen, although 7 Black-tailed Godwits were new. We just arrived back at the car to head to Chevington when I checked my phone and was pretty surprised to see that a Ross's Gull found at Boulmer!

The sun had already set but we still thought we could make it, especially with the head start we got from already being at Druridge. We arrived about half an hour later and then ran as fast as we could from the village to Longhougton Steel about 800 metres to the north.

At first it wasn't looking good, the light was going fast and the bird had disappeared into the flock of hundreds of gulls, many of which were sat down or behind the rocks. Luckily though I was scanning through the flock when something about one of the gulls caught my attention. Just I got onto to it, it took off revealing the stunning plumage and structure of the adult Ross's Gull. Thankfully it dropped back into the flock where it stayed until the light finally went. What a way to end 2017!

Spot the Ross's Gull!

Saturday, 30 December 2017

Parrot Crossbills in Derbyshire...

On Thursday we had a trip down to Howden Reservoir in Derbyshire with the hope of catching up with some Parrot Crossbills. When the sun was out and it wasn't snowing, the 12 birds would show well, along with a good number of Common Crossbills in the area...

Parrot Crossbill
I also managed some record videograbs...

Parrot Crossbills - Videos should be viewed in HD at 1080p

And for comparison...

A Common Crossbill at Druridge Bay Country Park in April 2016

Saturday, 23 December 2017

12 photos from 2017...

Pacific Diver at Druridge Bay Country Park - my first lifer of the year and the first of just three 'BB' rarities we saw in Northumberland this year.

Pine Bunting at Dunnington (N. Yorks) © S. Clifton - a very successful twitch for this smart bird in late February.
Yellow-browed Warbler on Holy Island - this singing male was perhaps our most unusual find of the year.
Citrine Wagtail at Lynemouth Flash - bird of the spring and a serious contender for bird of the year.
Audouin's Gulls on Mallorca - perhaps my favourite bird of the trip. Other highlights included Balearic and Moustached Warblers, Black, Griffon and Egyptian Vultures, Tawny Pipits, a Scops Owl and an extremely confiding Little Bittern.
White-winged Black Tern at Druridge Pools - one of a great selection of birds on the patch this year. I'm hoping to do an account of 2017 on the patch in the next week or two...
Long-billed Dowitcher at Boulmer
White-rumped Sandpiper on North Uist - it was great to find this then have views down to just two or three metres at the scenic RSPB Balnarald.
Scops Owl at Ryhope - my rarity of the year.
Bee-eater at Druridge Pools - almost certainly one of two Bee-eaters we had flying over East Chevington the weekend before which were definitely our most exciting find of the year!
Hawfinch in Morpeth - just my second sighting in the county.
Little Auk at Snab Point - great to get good views of this bird which briefly landed on the end of Snab Point. Other seawatching highlights throughout the year included 2 White-billed Divers, Cory's Shearwater, Sabine's Gull, 2 Grey Phalaropes and a Storm Petrel
A few stats up to 23/12

235 (including 5 BB rarities: Pacific Diver, Pine Bunting, Long-billed Dowitcher, Scops Owl, Richardson's Cackling Goose, Ross's Gull)

We've another really lucky year in terms of finding birds. The singing Yellow-browed Warbler was the best of the spring, while the autumn was more productive with White-rumped Sandpiper on North Uist, 2 Pectoral Sandpipers, Sabine's Gull, Quail, Bee-eaters at Chevington and Grey Phalarope. It was also nice to finally fill the hole of Garganey on my finds list!

I've just passed 200,000 blog views so thanks to everyone who reads it! 

Merry Christmas!

Sunday, 12 November 2017

More decent seawatching!

We've had a good run of seawatching this year with highlights up to today including Cory's Shearwater, Sabine's Gull, Storm Petrel and two White-billed Divers. We weren't as hopeful about today when we set off this morning, but were pleased to be proved wrong in the end!

We decided to start at Hadston Carrs and it wasn't long before we had our first Little Auk of the morning heading north. We stayed for two hours but it was pretty quiet with the highlight perhaps being a single Snow Bunting flying north past below the small cliff. Here's the totals for Hadston (09:30-11:30)...

2 Little Auk
10 Goldeneye
1 Long-tailed Duck
1 Little Egret
1 Snow Bunting
1 Great Northern Diver
3 Red-throated Diver
2 Great Crested Grebe

We then took a break for lunch and checked a quiet Druridge Pools before deciding to have another look at the sea from Snab Point. With rougher seas and the wind coming more from the north, our two and a half hours here were much more productive.

There were a few more Little Auks passing now and I got onto a distant Grey Phalarope which kept on disappearing behind waves. A second-winter Glaucous Gull suddenly appeared over the rocks and was close enough to make out the pale iris through binoculars. The Grey Phalarope reappeared much closer feeding in the surf and a second more distant bird flew north at speed shortly afterwards. After one had been seen earlier I was pleased to now be able add it to my finds list. Another finds tick for me came shortly afterwards when I picked up a lark flying straight towards us at distance. Despite the long range, its pale face was visible and as it got closer we could see that it lacked a white-trailing edge to the wings, confirming it as a Shore Lark.

It quietened down shortly after this but just as we were about to leave a Little Auk appeared flying over the rocks before landing in a rock pool, and I was able to get within a couple of metres of it,  providing easily my best ever views! The totals from Snab Point 12:45-15:20 were as follows...

2 Grey Phalarope
16 Little Auk
1 Glaucous Gull
1 Slavonian Grebe
1 Great Skua
1 Manx Shearwater
3 Goldeneye
1 Goosander
1 Grey Plover
1 Shore Lark

Little Auk - second photo taken on my phone without any zoom!

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Northerlies deliver!

We set out to Newbiggin this morning with quite high hopes as the pressure charts for the previous night looked quite good. However, when we arrived it was a bit quiet with just a couple of Manx Shearwaters and Great Skuas going past. An hour and a half later we were even contemplating going somewhere else when we saw that a White-billed Diver had been seen passing Whitburn.

Over the next twenty minutes or so reports filtered in of a bird passing a number of sites in Tyneside. It was at around 10:57 that my dad picked up a diver coming north.

The bird was more distant than we were expecting, although the sun caught it and revealed the ivory yellow bill of my first ever White-billed Diver, and with its head and neck appearing all black, this bird was still in its summer plumage. We were really pleased to see it despite it being a lot further out than we had hoped for.

However, twenty minutes later I got onto two more divers going north and realised that alongside a Great Northern Diver was another White-billed Diver. This WBD was in winter plumage and was incredibly close in providing some awesome scope views and a great comparison to the Great Northern next to it.

It quietened down again after this although at 12:45 I picked up a European Storm Petrel about half way out, which was my first on a seawatch. The sea was relatively calm so some more good scope views were had.

Here's our full totals for 08:30-13:30...

2 White-billed Diver
1 European Storm Petrel
17 Goldeneye
7 Long-tailed Duck
6 Red-throated Diver
34 Common Scoter
2 Manx Shearwater
3 Great Northern Diver
11 Whooper Swan
3 Great Skua
3 Red-breasted Merganser
1 Arctic Tern
1 Goosander
1 Velvet Scoter
9 Teal

The second White-billed Diver - © Chris Barlow
The best I could manage (White-billed on the left, Great Northern on the right)
Arctic Tern
Also a few other bits from the last week...

Two of three Velvet Scoter off Chevington.
Shore Lark and Snow Buntings at Chevington

Yellow-browed Warbler calling near Snab Point

Sunday, 22 October 2017

Where to look?!

When we set off yesterday morning we weren't sure exactly where to go - do we try and get better views of the Bee-eater or head north towards Holy Island or Low Newton? Eventually we decided to do neither and went to Chevington instead to have another go at seeing the Cetti's.

There was no sight or sound from the Cetti's in the hour or so we were there, but a Ring Ouzel dropped in providing a patch year tick and a Spoonbill arrived from the south. Moving to Druridge Pools, the Bee-eater was proving mobile and we were only able to get a brief flight view, so we decided to head to Low Newton to try and see the Little Bunting.

Once we arrived the weather had closed in a bit with the wind picking up, and two hours later things we not looking hopeful. However, we were just getting ready to leave when it was relocated in the top of a large tree opposite the tin church. We got some good views of the Little Bunting as it picked insects off the bottom of the leaves, but the lighting wasn't good for photos. Still, it was a smart bird and another county tick! A few Bramblings were also around and a Ring Ouzel flew over.

Still after better views of the Bee-eater, we called in there on our way home and were really pleased to see it flycatching from a fence just a short distance away. We're almost certain this is one of the birds we saw last weekend, but the views were so much better! A really good end to yet another great day on the Northumberland coast.

Bee-eater - video should be viewed in HD at 1080p

Little Bunting


Sunday, 15 October 2017

Patch awesomeness!

With a sunny, relatively warm morning we decided to have our fourth attempt at seeing or at least hearing the Cetti's Warbler which had been singing at Chevingtonfor the last few days...

We arrived at the hide in the SE corner of the north pool and sure enough the Cetti's Warbler was singing from the reeds. My dad picked up a Bittern flying above the reeds which I managed to get onto just as a gull forced it to land in the reeds. Our first of two juvenile Marsh Harriers of the morning also appeared over the reeds and a Grey Plover flew over our heads calling.

We were all stood listening to the Cetti's when a rolling 'kwip' came from above us. In my head I thought to myself that that sounded a lot like a Bee-eater but this was October in Northumberland. I looked up just in case and got a bit of a shock when I saw the distinctive undulating flight and spiky shape of a Bee-eater overhead. My dad also got onto the bird at this point and we called it to get the other birders onto it.

Thankfully everyone was quickly onto the Bee-eater when I suddenly realised there was another a short way behind it. Wow.

I got them in my scope and watched them for perhaps four or five minutes as they made their way north. They were just silhouettes for the most of the time, but every now and again the sun caught their plumage as they banked, revealing the black-bordered orange underwing, yellow throat and bright green upperparts of the two juvenile Bee-eaters.

All eight birders were left feeling a bit incredulous that we'd just seen two Bee-eaters fly over East Chevington in the middle of October!

* Check out Stewart Sexton's blog for his great account of the days events, complete with sketches here. The nine birders who saw the Bee-eaters were JF, TF, ADMc, SS, JWR, AC, BB, GW, CB.

Everything else was slightly forgotten about although a juvenile Black Tern gave a brief flyby and Peregrine was over Druridge.

PWC 2017
Species: 180
Points: 271

It's already a record year for me doing Patchwork Challenge, could it get any better..?

Pink-footed Geese heading south

The juvenile Red-necked Phalarope also remains at Druridge Pools.

Saturday, 14 October 2017

Goose-fest 300...

We headed out the house this morning with the intention of seeing my 300th species for the county. Our target was the Richardson's Cackling Goose in Budle Bay although we weren't too hopeful on the way as we'd only heard negative news so far...

When we arrived the difficulty of the task was apparent immediately. There were a minimum of 5000 Barnacle Geese and 2000 Pink-footed Geese and they were all very distant from the Harper's Heugh viewpoint. Eventually though a Canada-type was picked up asleep on the estuary. 

Once it finally woke up it was hard to tell whether it was the Cackling or Todd's due to the extreme distance. However, this was made much easier when another birder picked up the Richardson's Cackling Goose in a much closer flock of Barnacles in one if the fields. It was quite distinctive when views were reasonable. Also at this point the Todd's Canada Goose woke up and walked around a bit.

Over the next hour or two the Cackling Goose returned to the bay before once again flying into the fields. My dad also picked up another Todd's Canada Goose in the bay feeding alongside a Greylag.

All photos and videos below were taken by S. Clifton and used here with permission. The videos should be viewed in HD...

Richardson's Cackling Goose - note how it is a similar size to the Barnacles, with a short neck, compact shape, square-looking head and a short bill.
The first Todd's Canada Goose - very distant on the mudflats, this was the smaller of the two Todd's though still noticebly bigger than the Barnacle. It's rear end was quite long, while it's neck appeared shorter than our 'native' Canadas. The breast also appeared quite dark. 
Todd's Canada Goose number two - the larger of the two birds, its shape looked more similar to our normal Canada Geese, although it was visibly smaller than the nearby Greylag. British Canadas are almost always larger than Greylags. 
And a video of each bird...

On the way home the Red-necked Phalarope at Druridge while a Slavonian Grebe and Velvet Scoter were off Chevington burn mouth. 

Wednesday, 11 October 2017


Was great to watch this smart juvenile Red-necked Phalarope doing its thing at Druridge last night - video should be viewed in HD at 1080p

Great White Egret flying around Chevington on Sunday evening. 

Saturday, 7 October 2017


This Barred Warbler was one of three sylvia warblers in an elder at the entrance to Druridge Pools this morning...

As well as this Garden Warbler and a female Blackcap.

Sunday, 1 October 2017

More decent birding...

Yesterday we had another really enjoyable day's birding and it was hard to pick a highlight...

Juvenile Long-tailed Skua in the gloom at Goswick.

An educational adult White-winged Black Tern off Stag Rocks. The views were better than these suggest! Videos should be viewed in HD at 1080p. 2 juvenile Black Terns were also offshore.

A reuturn visit to the Ryhope SCOPS OWL with my dad...

Spotted Redshank at Cresswell Pond