16th Feb. This was to be our first visit of 2016 to Druridge Bay and our aim was to complete what has become a favoured walk of ours from Druridge Country Park south to Cresswell. This may not sound too far to the hardy, but carrying photography gear and telescope along this route in strong winds is no casual stroll. As I said to Sam as we faced a bracing wind and the accompanying wind chill, this must be really good for us, so why do I feel so cream crackered? On the journey north we had talked of the industrial heritage of this area. I know it’s a contentious issue and I may well be in a minority, but I can’t feel too surprised that industry still has eyes set upon certain parts of the area. We were her today to enjoy the wide open spaces and the wildlife despite the wind and rough sea. At least it was sunny and the light was good.
We spent a little more time at the country park than we would normally do and so had time to capture images of the ever so relaxed Goosander. There were also numbers of Red Breasted Mergansers on Ladyburn Lake and Sam also caught sight of a Scaup. As we made for the hide at the north end of East Chevington Pool we found a female Kestrel perched low in the trees and were to come across it again later. The wind ensured that there were few smaller passerines showing. We soon had sight of the Black Necked Grebe and a Scaup on the pool, but were to have a better sighting of the grebe from the eastern hides. I’m not sure which hide ranked as the chilliest today, but think the ones were to be in later at Druridge Pools were the likely winners on that score. Goldeneye numbers remain high at East Chevington. The likes of Greylag Geese, Canada Geese, Pochard and Little Grebes were found too. Lesser Black-backed Gull was amongst gull species seen.
The sea brought us little other than more Red Breasted Mergansers, a couple of Common Scoter, Eider, Razorbill and Guillemot. We were to later find a dead Razorbill on the beach. No waders at all were found on the tide-line, although Curlew were well represented by small flocks flying overhead.
Red Breasted Merganser
The walk down to Druridge Pools was quiet, but we did find a pair of Stonechat (a second pair was found later) and a flighty flock of Goldfinch. Despite it being half term we saw very few folk and the beaches were at times empty, which is of course when they look at their best. Tree Sparrows were among birds at the feeders and a small flock of Golden Plover flew overhead.
Exmoor Ponies at Druridge Pools.
Druridge Pools gave us good sightings of Gadwall, Pintail, Shoveler, Shelduck, Wigeon and Teal and even more Red Breasted Mergansers. The latter species being seen a close range. As we walked on towards Creswell we found a family of four Whooper Swans, a lone Greylag Goose and a couple of Mute Swans just opposite the road closed signs. Assuming (although we did wonder) that the signs meant closed only to motor vehicles we walked on. On arrival at the works we found that we were unable to negotiate the missing bridge so had to retrace our steps some way and make a detour to the beach. I reckon we must have added almost a mile to our walk here and once onto the beach I found walking into the wind very tiring. However our detour allowed us a good opportunity to look for the Twite. We found large flocks of flighty Linnet, but were unable to confirm any sighting of Twite. There were also numbers of Reed Bunting feeding in the area and a Meadow Pipit.
It was a relief to get back through the dunes and onto the road again and we came out exactly at the spot of the car-park at the north of Cresswell Pond. I was surprised to see the state of the field north of the pond. I was later told that the day before it had been completely submerged as had the causeway. A flock of several hundred Wigeon were in the field, and smaller numbers of Teal on the water and one of the first birds seen as we checked this end of the pond was the Long Billed Dowitcher which was feeding with a Redhanks and a few Dunlin. The difficult walk through the wind had brought its reward. Well, we may well be the last birders in the Northeast to see this bird (we missed it on our previous visit), but what the hec, see it we have. We shared it with another visitor who was very grateful for a look through the scope, a lifer for him. This was a UK tick for me and a lifer for Sam. I’ve seen this species only twice before, once in British Columbia and the other time in Cota Donana, Spain. I remember both experiences very well, although it’s frightening to realise my trip to British Columbia was almost sixteen years ago. I remember seeing a Long Billed Dowitcher and Short Billed Dowitcher stood together and to be honest not finding it possible to tell one from the other. I remember that same area give me the likes of Wood Duck, Prairie Falcon, Great and Lesser Yellowlegs and Great Horned Owl during the same afternoon.
As we moved along towards the hide the wind was biting and the light dimming. This end of the pond proved to be the quieter today, although we did have sightings of Common Snipe and yet another Red Breasted Merganser amongst other species. We spoke to our friend DY who we often bump into the area of Druridge. DY told us he had experienced a triple sawbill event at Killy Lake on Sunday with Smew, Goosander and Red Breasted Meganser all showing well. The sounds of the evening were all around us in the form of large lifting flocks of corvids, the haunting calls of Curlew, whistling Wigeon and calling Common Snipe and the odd call from Water Rail. When DY left we had the area to ourselves and the rain began to fall on the hide. We still had some time to spend here before heading home and it was filled very nicely when the Barn Owl appeared. We watched it at length as it flew in the usual area and close to us giving wonderful sightings to end our day. It was nice to have this all to ourselves.
The wind today had ensured that the species count was not going to be beating any records, but we still hit sixty-two species and experienced a great if somewhat chilly day. A far better day than the miserable dullness and dampness of today.