Sunday, 14 August 2011

Meeting with Bonaparte's Gull

14th Aug. The all weather birders managed to find a day’s break in the rain, and to celebrate took the fast train to Chester le Street where Tom and I met up with that well known character Foghorn also known to friends as Andrew. I’m wondering if Tom had chosen rail travel in the hopes of repeating an exciting sighting of Hobby that he had had this week on a train traveling ‘up north’. The journey was cheap and fast, and so fast it allowed little time to look out the window for birds. We were soon off towards Saltholme after picking up some refreshment.

We watched the pool from the roadside. We didn’t plan to enter the RSPB reserve as such and in any event where there long before opening time. We laughed at the idea of the cafes ‘birders breakfast’ at 10.00am. I’d had my breakfast four hours earlier than that! The hoped for Little Stint could not be found on the causeway although I did catch sight of a small very light bellied wader flying beside the hide and wondered if that might be it. It disappeared quite quickly so I couldn’t be sure. Ruff, Black-tailed Godwit and Dunlin were amongst birds seen as were numbers of Lapwing and Shoveller. We moved off in the direction of Greatham Creek and Seal Sands before the reserve opened, but intended to come back to view from the hide.

The creek was initially quiet, with the tide being at a low point. Ruff, Dunlin, Redshank and Curlew were quickly picked up. There was no sign of Spotted Redshank. From the hide area over looking the sands we found numbers of Oystercatcher, Redshank, Curlew, Black-tailed Godwit, and at least three Grey Plover one of them in stunning summer plumage and that bird qualified certainly for the most stunning bird seen during the day in my opinion. I noticed a small flock of Dunlin fly in over the sands and think that this is likely to have been the flock we found on our return walk. It included another cracking bird, a Little Stint in wonderful plumage and so small against the Dunlin. The mantle V very obvious. There was now no need to return to the reserve now. Also around were Little Egrets, Grey Heron, Shelduck, growing numbers of Teal and Greenshank. Butterflies began to make an appearance now as it was getting really warm. By the end of the day we had seen Whites, Common Blue (in numbers), Peacock, Red Admiral, Small Copper, Small Heath, Meadow Brown and Wall Brown. The Common Blues especially showed well and were involved in courtship.

There was never any need to reconsider plans as the weather was good, so we head off towards Crimdon for the Little Terns. I was pleased to hear that they have been successful with productivity this year as apposed to last year when almost all of the young were predated. Many of the terns had already left the area, but we had good sightings of adult and juvenile birds along with a few Sandwich Terns giving an excellent size comparison. There were Linnets and Goldfinch in the dune area. After quite a quick visit we were off to Hartlepool.

It was hoped we’d find Rose-ringed Parakeet in Ward Jackson Park. After I picked up the call and briefly saw one bird fly through the trees I was beginning to think that might be it. Eventually we heard the calls of the flock and saw maybe 10/12 birds fly overhead. Lesser Black Backed Gulls were visiting the pond.

Next on the list was a visit to Whitburn to try and track down the Bonaparte’s Gull. I’ve seen many of these gulls on the Pacific coast of Canada, but that was sometime ago and in any event I was hoping to get it on my UK list. The list is growing, slowly I grant you, but it is growing! On arrival we found several birders looking at the flock of Black Headed Gulls. They all left without success. We stayed despite the sea watching being quiet. Not much was picked up on the sea at all apart from Guillemot, Razorbill, a couple of Fulmar, the odd Gannet, Cormorants and Gulls. It was high tide and the rocks below us held Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Sanderling and Redshank. Andrew having seen the Bonaparte’s Gull previously was confident that if we gave it time, the bird would appear. So we spent some time in the now pleasant conditions passing the time of day and people watching. It wasn’t too long before the Bonaparte’s Gull flew into the area almost directly in front of us. A cracking sighting indeed and we watched the bird at length as it moved slowly along the coastline, close in and just below us. Patience is the name of the game. No other birders had remained. For the third time in just over a week I have found birders have missed the bird they were after, as they have moved on too quickly, in each case just before the bird has flown in. I know Andrew has photos on his blog and I’m sure that there will be more.

Time was now catching up on us and there was a train to catch but not before paying a visit to a site well known by Andrew near his home. It was a good way to end the days birding. My tally of species is around fifty-five for the day. It could have been more I’m sure but we did target certain birds. We were all satisfied with our day in Durham so we’ll be back! Shame we missed the Wilson’s Phalarope, but as I said last night, you can’t expect to get everything! I did add four species to my year list.

I’m off to re-read up on Charles Lucien Jules Laurent Bonaparte, whom the gull was named after, and nephew of Napoleon Bonaparte.


  1. Wow! The Rose-ringed Parakeet and Bonaparte's Gull are something special.

    It's a shame you didn't get the Wilson's Phalarope, but I'm sure it will make others green with envy that only yourselves got the Bonaparte's Gull, lol!

    Nice to get so many butterflies also.

  2. Well the parakeets were certainly green Mark. :-)