8th Feb. A nice surprise on Friday evening when Sam informed me we had transport the following day to and from Druridge Bay. Not such a nice surprise after the almost balmy days of late was getting out of the car at East Chevington and facing a very cold wind. I was never the less looking forward to another good walk in the area and we had been greeted by a Kestrel as we travelled along the roughly filled pot-holed road towards North Pool. Maybe the work done will save a few tyres for a week or two!
We braved the wind outside the metal box at North Pool and were soon on the Red-necked Grebe and Long-tailed Ducks. Three Great Crested Grebes, Shelduck, Gadwall, Wigeon, Teal, Goldeneye and Red-breasted Merganser were amongst other birds seen here. Greylag Geese were seen and Pink-footed Geese heard. We were soon walking southwards towards Chevington Burn and it appeared into the wind. We were aware that Snow Buntings had been seen in the area. Numbers of Curlew were in the area as we had started the walk and Goldfinches called as they flew overhead.
Initially the only find of real interest was a pair of Stonechats, although the view northwards across the bay was a grand one. The tide was out and the wide stretch of sand was virtually devoid of people. The wind made patterns of the surface sand which was blown low along the beach. I was grateful for a sheltered spot amongst the dunes to take in the fine view. Red-throated Diver, Eider Duck and Common Scoter were seen on the sea. As we moved on and approached the burn two Snow Buntings were found. This pair, especially the male bird, was beautifully marked. They were briefly joined by a third Snow Bunting which departed as quickly as it had appeared. The original pair hung around and weren’t perturbed by our presence.
A Grand view from south of Chevington Burn
We hung around with the Snow Buntings too, and I have to say I’ve enjoyed no better birding experience this year than watching Snow Buntings. A few photographs were taken and so focussed on the birds was I that I had no idea another photographer had appeared behind me on the sands. Sam asked if I knew of any monographs on Snow Buntings and in the back of my mind I was sure that there was one, but I just couldn’t place it. On checking I’ve reminded myself it is a monograph written by the Desmond Nethersole-Thompson and I think published way back in 1966. A bit of a classic I suppose and probably well worth a read if you can put up with out of date statistics. It has been reprinted in recent years I believe. I’m quite surprised that there isn’t something more up to date on the Snow Bunting, but perhaps Thompson’s book might take some surpassing.
We eventually managed to pull ourselves away from Chevington Burn, passing BD along the way, and headed northwards passing South and North Pool towards Druridge Bay Park. I was hoping we would get a better sighting of the Red-necked Grebe and I wasn’t disappointed on that score. It was Sam’s best ever sighting of this species and he managed a record image of it. A better sighting too of the three Long-tailed Ducks. We failed to see a Marsh Harrier on this occasion, but were told that it had arrived back on Tuesday! We pointed out that we had seen the female bird two weeks ago and that it had been reported before then. We took our lunch overlooking Lady Burn Lake where Gadwalls were showing very nicely. I was so relaxed I even smiled at the dog walkers!
The feeding station provided us with very nice sightings of a small flock of Lesser Redpolls, a few Siskin (both species new for the year) and a fleeting view of a Goldcrest as it took to flight. We then headed for the beach again and walked northwards towards Hauxley. Waders seen included Oystercatcher, Sanderling, Turnstone, Redshank, Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwit.
Once back onto the pathway we found that the fields south of Hauxley contained numbers of Pink-footed Geese. Greylags were also flying in and the numbers of geese were growing. The Ponteland hide provided little apart from Wigeon and Grey Heron. The water on Hauxley reserve remains very high and there were few waders about. Lapwing was heard, I seem to remember from the Ponteland hide.
Once onto the reserve footpaths we found the light was against us and in any event there seemed to be little on the ponds or edges of the water so we didn’t spend much time looking. We did spend time in the hide which overlooks the sea and found large numbers of Tree Sparrow. Other small passerines include a surprisingly large number of Dunnock. Reed Buntings were present and they had been around in some number throughout the walk.
It was time now to make for home and fortunately we had the offer of transport again. We chatted for a while as we sat at the reserve picnic tables. By now it was warm and sunny. Late afternoon is a wonderfull time of day. It was unbelievably quiet. I’d have thought more people would have been out and about on such a fine afternoon.