Sunday, 17 July 2011

All Weather Birders Chase a Record!

17th July. Despite this mornings rainfall Tom and I took the decision to head for the Holywell. Meeting up at Killingworth Lake at 8:30am we took a walk along by the side of the lake to in an attempt to find the Little Gull already seen by Tom before my slightly late arrival. There was no sign of it.:-( Never the less we were rewarded with a soaking plus Great Crested Grebes, seven Common Terns, three Common Sandpipers and numerous Swifts, House Martins and Swallows. Tom had also picked up a Sand Martin. We were soon off towards a wet Holywell although I had fingers crossed that the Met Office forecast would be correct and that we would have sun later in the day. We are always after our target of eighty species on this walk, having narrowly missed it recently with a total of seventy-nine. I can’t say I set off with confidence that we would make it today.

We had soon found four Great Spotted Woodpeckers near Holywell Pond and were glad of the cover of the hide. I counted seventeen Little Grebes on the water today, which included a pair with three young and a pair with two young. It seemed fairly quiet otherwise. Having walked down to the public hide it was a little disappointing to initially find no waders in what seemed to be perfect conditions for them. I’d spoken too soon however and a lone Redshank and two juvenile Little Ringed Plovers soon turned up. The latter being a year tick for me. Grey Heron was also seen. So the day was off to a good start and the rain stopped! We found a female Sparrowhawk and Common Buzzard in the area, but little of note on east pond. There were numbers of Linnet in the area and we began to find our first Common Whitethroats of the day.

We were soon listening to Yellowhammer song and at some point found a Lesser Whitethroat. We’ve been very lucky to find so many Lesser Whitethroats this year. It was fortuitous that we took the path across the fields today instead of walking down the avenue as we were given excellent sightings of the Barn Owl out hunting at 11.25am. No doubt it has hungry mouths to feed. A Kestrel was found and later seen lit by the sun in the trees of the dene. Yes by now it was warm and sunny. Once into the dene we had sightings of Grey Wagtail and Dipper. I’m confident we found two Grey Wagtail territories today. The latter bird being one of the rapidly growing juvenile birds. Other warblers included Blackcap, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff. The day list was adding up quite quickly despite missing out on some common woodland species.

By the time we were at Seaton Sluice the rain had returned so we headed into the fish and chip shop for lunch. By the time we had taken our fill and stocked up with cans of coke, it had stopped raining. We were heading in any event for the luxurious tower hide. Before entering the hide we had found Oystercatchers, Turnstones, Redshanks and ten Knot resplendent in summer plumage giving us one of the sightings of the day. Once in the hide we spent longer than usual enjoying a really good sea watch. We’d soon found quite large numbers of Guillemot, several with young birds with them. Razorbill was also eventually picked up. Gannets were quite numerous and we found both Arctic and Great Skua flying south. I think we may have had two Arctic Skuas. Kittiwakes were numerous and Fulmar was eventually found. Most of the terns were Sandwich, but Common and Arctic were also seen. Tom picked up another Little Gull and this time I saw it, so any greenness I shown earlier soon vanished. I seem to remember another Common Sandpiper in this area and another one later on, plus Rock Pipit.

Well satisfied and with a growing day list we made off in the direction of St Marys’ Lighthouse. I have to admit I was still doubtful of any record breaking today. We got chatting to another birder and his partner who turned out to be fellow blogger, Howdon Birder. It was his talk of dragonflies that gave me a clue as to who it was. Good to meet you both. I must get my olfactory senses checked out as I got no whiff of the brut! Perhaps it hadn’t been splashed all over quite enough. :-) We’d all been watching Razorbills being dived bombed by gulls which were after their catch. Sandwich Terns were also diving down in the same area which must have held a shoal of fish.

I’m not quite sure when the target of eighty came into sight, but it did. By now we were picking up flocks of Golden Plover, Lapwing and Curlew and also had our first Meadow Pipits of the day. Chasing this record under a burning sun was now a sweat making business. So focused was I on this objective I’d almost forgotten the seals and butterflies seen today. I seem to remember the butterflies were Small White, Small Skipper, Speckled Wood and Meadow Browns. It was definitely a day given over primarily to the birding however.

Despite being roast by the sun the thunderous storm over Blyth was not far behind us and I wondered why some folk chose to walk in the opposite direction in shirt sleeves!

Once we had arrived at the wetland area we needed two more species of bird to hit eighty for the day. The Sedge Warblers were singing, but we already had them on the list. Unusually for this area it took some time to find Reed Buntings. We were now on seventy-nine and having found the pond almost devoid of life and scoured the small amount of shore left by the now high tide, it looked like we were going to be stuck one short of that record. There’s always another day I thought to myself and Tom and I agreed that despite failing to smash our record it had been another great days birding with new years ticks for both of us, and a lifer for Tom.

So we headed off towards the cemetery thinking that we might find number eighty there if very lucky. Then just a minute, Tom remembered………..he hadn’t added the one and only Pheasant that had seen sheltering under the feeders today. We’d done it. A new record had been set and we had hit the eighty species. I had been confident from the start.:-)

Now between you and I, I’m still not sure that Tom had left this Pheasant off the list deliberately in order to keep me on my toes and sweat over this. If he had it worked. I was sweating and tonight I am cream crackered so apologies if I’ve missed anything of importance. We didn’t finish until about 6.00pm. The all weather birders had had another great days birding as always. I wonder if ninety is a possibility!


  1. Brian/Tom

    Great to meet you both. Dont know where you get the time to write your "little" tales as it takes me ages to do mine and it is padded out with pics (misidentified sometimes LOL). But, at least it means I dont have to watch the soaps with the Beloved.


  2. Hi John
    Good to meet you also. Always good to put a face to a blog.:-) I hope that you both managed to avoid the thunderstorms.
    Cheers Brian.

  3. Well done on the eighty species boys.
    NINETY ??? Sounds like a tall order.........but.
    You could have claimed an extra one with the Blogger from Howdon......definitely a strange BRUT of a species you sighted there.

  4. Hi John

    Ha Ha. Well we did have at least one unconfirmed bird so that makes it 82 already.;-) I think 90 would need a special day, but no doubt its 'doable'. We are basking in the glory of 80 for the moment.
    Cheers Brian

  5. Many congratulations on the 82 species! Your perseverance through the rain was well rewarded, lol!

    (So much for fair-weathered birding, as the rain often seems to bring more stuff in, lol).

  6. Hi Mark

    I'm sure it was the rain that brought down so many Common Sandpipers. 'Never mind the weather watch the birds' is the motto of the all weather birders. To much sun is bad for us so we should all be fit and well this summer! Cheers Brian.

    Cheers Brian

  7. Lol, yes I think in northern England we shall be fighting fit every summer if that's the case, hehe! Our summer was April by the looks of it, lol.

    But yeah I do find the rain seems to help the bird numbers, so I'll bear this in mind tomorrow when I go shopping for a new rain coat, lol!