Sunday, 21 September 2014

All Weather Birders Seek Migrants

20th Sept.  It was a dismal start to the day as Sam and I met Tom at Tynemouth for what was a reunion of the all weather birders.  Drizzle and mist and not much sign of birdlife to begin with, although Tom had seen the Red-breasted Flycatcher early morning.  We talked of sightings found in warmer climes as we had all been on birding trips on the continent since all three of us had met up.  Conditions seemed good for the possibility of finding some migrant birds today.  We heard Blackcap as we arrived.

As the drizzle drizzled we stood around patiently awaiting a fleeting glimpse of the Red-breasted Flycatcher.  Our wait was in vain and in fact little stirred amongst the trees and bushes.  Never really reaching a point of what you would call heavy rain, the drizzle did eventually drizzle away to almost nothing and it did brighten slightly.  At this point our patience began to be rewarded with some decent sightings including an early Brambling which give us two or three good sightings.  I reckoned this was an early and very new arrival and having checked dates in Birds in Northumbria, I note that in 2010 the first record was 20th September, 2011 was 13th September and 2012 was 21st September.  All is relative of course, as these dates simply record those records made known.  My thought is that most folk don’t send in records and of course many birds will be missed anyway.  Anyhow, I’m happy that our record is an early one of one of my favourite ‘wintering’ birds.  I’ll be surprised if there have been many, if any Bramblings seen in Northumberland this autumn before this one!

Other significant sightings amongst the commoner woodland species were two Yellow-browed Warblers, Garden Warbler, Blackcap, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff, with the latter bird calling on a number of occasions.  Goldcrest and a large party of Long-tailed Tits were amongst other birds seen before we moved from the area of the Priory Car-park.

We walked down to the pier and enjoyed a short sea watch.  Both Purple Sandpiper and Turnstone were seen on the rocks below us.  A small flock of Brent Geese were seen flying south and at least three Great Skuas, Arctic Skua and Red-breasted Merganser were also seen.  A Kestrel flew below the priory.  After a short return to look again for the Red-breasted Flycatcher we left for the warmth of the fish and chip restraunt at Seaton Sluice where a good lunch was enjoyed.  The drizzle was no longer.

Another quick sea-watch, this time from Seaton Sluice brought us four Velvet Scoters together quite close in on the sea and Common Scoter.  The Velvet Scoters showed really well and along with the Brambling were probably my birds of the day.  Two Manx Shearwaters flew north and were again seen very well quite close into land.  Arctic Terns were seen here and in other areas along the coast.  Red-throated Diver showed well and there was good numbers of Guillemot and Eider on the sea.

We walked to St Mary’s Island checking out the mounds on the way.  These were silent.  Numbers of Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Linnet and Goldfinch were seen along the walk as was a lone Lapwing.  Golden Plovers were on the rocks north of the island.  Sam had a decent sighting of a female Wheatear which I only caught as a flashing flypast out the corner of my eye. 

The mounds, willows and wetland proved to be almost devoid of birds, although Tom heard a Yellow-browed Warbler at the back of the wetland and Sam and I watched as a small flock of Wigeon flew onto the pool.  In comparison Priors Park area at Tynemouth was buzzing!  We headed towards the crematorium grounds passing a lone Sanderling, Oystercatchers and Curlews along the way.  Arctic Skuas had been seen over the sea again.  Our second Kestrel of the day hovered over the fields as at last the sun began to break through.  The crematorium grounds were silent.

It had been an excellent day with some interesting birds seen amongst a day list of about sixty species, the occasional Grey Seal showing and two or three Speckled Wood Butterflies braving the dampness.  By evening time the skies were blue and clear and there was a nice view over North Tyneside to the sea, but our all weather birding  day had ended before that transpired.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014


13th Sept.  The RSPB Local Group trip to Holy Island usually takes place in October, but for organisational reasons we were up there in September this year.  I favour change, as otherwise you simply get stuck in a rut and at least we were able to walk around in sunshine.  Unfortunately the sunshine meant crowds, although I noted that few left the path between car-parks and the castle.  The rest of the island remained relatively peaceful.  Not many folk seem to have a passion for exploration and I think in this case lose out on some of the more attractive areas of the island.  Their loss is of course to the gain of those of us who take the time to be a little more adventurous (it tends to be the same where ever you go).  It had been quite misty on arrival, but the sun was soon out and temperatures jumped, although with a heat haze around all day it wasn’t a good day for photography.  Neither was it a good day for sightings of migrant birds.

Even on a busy day it is still possible to find peace on the island
Common Buzzard was seen perched just before joining the causeway.   Roe Deer were seen in the fields and later on the island. The area around the causeway didn’t hold the waders that we normally see except for a few Curlew.  I mentioned during the day that perhaps the group ought to explore the Snook at some point as this is always missed on trips.  Again a change would be good.

Sam and I headed for a quiet spot just north of St Cuthbert’s Island so that we could look for waders in relative peace and quiet.  We were soon joined by two or three other keen birders in the group.  It was certainly atmospheric with the calls of waders and Grey Seals in the misty atmosphere.  Hundreds of Brent Geese were picked up, but at some distance and I found later in the day that many members had not seen them at all.  A small number of the geese showed a little better on a rather closer sandbank.  Golden Plovers were around in large numbers and I seem to remember that we counted twenty plus Grey Plovers out in the bay, most still in summer plumage.  Nearby there were hundreds of Bar-tailed Godwit.  I picked up an occasional Knot, but when Sam walked across to St Cuthbert’s Island he found a large flock of them.  Oystercatcher, Dunlin and Redshank were also around in numbers and I’m thinking that there may have been several other species of wader but they were impossible to pick up in difficult light.  Eider Ducks and Cormorants were all we saw on this water from this point.  Thrushes picked up around where we stood were limited to Blackbird and Song Thrush, although we did hear from another birder that he has seen at least three Redwing during the morning.  I understand that the Black Redstart was showing along the beach.

When we caught up to a few other members near St Cuthbert’s Island we were put onto a Pied Flycatcher showing very well in the Vicar’s Garden.  The harbour held little more than Redshank, Dunlin, Rock Pipit and Pied Wagtail.

After dumping the cumbersome telescope back on the coach and having had some lunch sat in the harbour we took to the lonnen.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker call was picked up.  The hedges were in the main devoid of birds but we did have a very good sighting overhead of a female Sparrowhawk and two or three Kestrels.  Meadow Pipit, Skylark, Linnet and Mute Swan were flying in the area.

Instead of following the pathway to the hide and small pond we continued through the dunes into the sandy bay which I think is perhaps one of the most attractive parts of the island.  Gannets were passing by in large numbers and a large flock of Ringed Plovers were near the tide- line.  Sanderlings and Turnstones were also seen.  Pied Wagtails, a flock of Linnets and Rock Pipits were passed as we walked along the shore.  A small flock of Wigeon were seen flying along the coast. 

Now who is that?
The pond held the likes of Little Grebe, Shoveller, Mallard, Gadwall, Teal and Moorhen.  The best sighting here was without doubt another Pied Flycatcher which showed well, at times in decent light.  Grey Herons and Lapwings had been seen in this area as we walked along the lonnen.

I felt that the light was at its best when it came to the time to leave the island although it was still rather hazy.  We left with a couple of members claiming the sighting of what appears to have been a large raptor.  This gained the interest of others as they backed away from boarding the coach to take a last look, but nothing was seen.

We made our customary short stop at Budle Bay.  It was fairly quiet and lacked the numbers of geese and ducks often seen here a little later in the year.  However I did manage to add Little Egret (now seeming to be a fixture here), Shelduck and Greenshank to the day list.

There were a number of folk asleep on the way home.  I’d enjoyed my day on the island in the sun, although feeling cream crackerd.

Unfortunately my present situation has allowed little time to look on patch.  However I did note last week that at least one of this years Great Crested Grebe young was showing well and still swimming along side one of the adult birds.  One surprise has been the number of Speckled Wood Butterflies seen in Killingworth during the recent hot spell.  I’ve had numbers in the garden often engaged in the spiral dancing up into the higher elevation of the hedge and tree, which appears to be males in territorial disputes.  I’ve had this species visit the garden regularly in recent years, but never in such numbers and it is of course only in recent years that Speckled Wood Butterflies inhabited this area at all.