22nd Jan. I was up before dawn today and soon meeting up with Tom as we boarded the bus to the grand metropolis of Chester-le Street. I was a little concerned that our chauffeur for the day Andrew may still be in bed so I give him an alarm call which seemed to do the trick, as we set off in the darkness from Newcastle.
We were soon by the River Wear allowing Tom to tick off Mandarin Duck and the Scaup, along with Goosander. These were to be three new year ticks of a good number for Tom today. The primary reason for our trip was to return to Rainton Meadows for the Redpolls. So yes, we were soon marching up that hill again, this time as drizzle fell. Lesser and Mealy Redpolls were very quickly showing well. We watched for some time as the drizzle continued. At one point a very likely looking contender for an Arctic Redpoll appeared although there was no consensus on it being one. Photos were taken and we await an outcome. Arctic Redpoll or not, we did have more good views of the other two species. Willow Tit turned up near the feeders as well as tits, Siskins and Goldfinches. Towards the end of our vigil the Redpolls appeared en mass. We eventually left the hill. However, with us all being unsure of Tom having ticked the Arctic Redpoll, I feel it won’t be too long before we are back up there again. My first Shelduck of the year flew over to the pond and these were to be the first of many seen today.
No Long Eared Owl was found today which was a little disappointing, but we kept on going. We watched the gull flocks for a short time, but found none of the scarcer birds we would have liked to. Both Tom and I are keen to get more to grips with gulls and I seem to remember Andrew mentioning he had a gull ‘tip’ in mind. Oh that’s good I thought. Then when we arrived at the tip at Seaton Carew I began to wonder. There had apparently been sightings of several white winged gulls and other scarcer gulls earlier in the day, but I won’t go into them as I didn’t see any! An Iceland Gull was flying in the flock when we arrived. I believe Andrew saw it. I have to confess that I need a gentler introduction to gull watching and will be getting down to Blyth Harbour soon. Standing watching these thousands of gulls at tips is perhaps simply not my forte. I have respect for the guys that can pick these gulls out from the flocks, but I can’t see me ever getting into this type of birding in any big way. Take a look at http://andrewkinghorn.blogspot.com/ if you wish to see one of the interesting and queried gulls. Anyway by now I had my mind on a date with a Ring Necked Duck which was to be a lifer for me, so may be my thoughts were to much on this and getting warm again.:-)
We eventually set of for Cowpen Bewley. On arrival and before walking to the pond we had a very nice male Brambling in the hedge along with Tree Sparrow, Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer. Once at the pond I soon got my eye on the Ring Necked Duck. I found that this little beauty is one of those birds that drawings in guide books do not do justice too. I had a good long look at lifer number two for the year so far. Gadwalls were around in numbers, providing another year tick, along with the likes of Mallard and Tufted Duck.
We were then off towards the industrial belt of Teeside which to me always looks attractive in its own way. We saw a skein of Pink Footed Geese at some point and flock of Greylag Geese. Canada Geese had been seen early morning.
Owls were now to be the principal target. However we were soon picking up flocks of Curlew, Lapwing and Redshank and the odd Seal in the water. Tom picked up a couple of Dunlin and Black-Tailed Godwit, both new year ticks for both him and me. Andrew quickly sighted a Barn Owl in the distance, its head poking out of a small building. It soon moved on to various posts and then came closer as it began to fly along the hedge line. In the other direction and some distance away a Short Eared Owl was picked up which did eventually fly a little closer to us.
Someone mentioned that a Black-Necked Grebe had been seen in front of the hide but a long way out in the bay. Tom and I decide to take a look for it. Initially we found only numbers of Red-Breasted Mergansers and larger numbers of Shelduck. We did eventually pick up a grebe way off in the distance which on closer inspection was quite clearly the Black-Necked Grebe. This had been an unexpected year tick for both of us. There were large gull flocks out on the water.
By now it was getting dark and the flames and lights of Teeside industry was beginning to light up. It had been one of those long Foghorn days, but a very productive one. Despite my comments on the gulls I know the all weather birding team have in mind further study. We were soon on the bus back to Newcastle with one of us already in the land of Nod. :-) I know I slept well last night! We’d come home with a day list of sixty-three species. I may have missed one or two, but I don’t think so. This included nine new year ticks and a lifer for me and I think a good list of year ticks for Tom. Some excellent birding today. We’ll be back! :-) In any event the all weather birding team have their next days birding adventure planned already.