25th Jan. On the return journey from West Cumbria on 22nd Jan we did a bit of star gazing. Venus is showing well in the western sky after sunset throughout January. A further reward was a Tawny Owl which flew above the car as we drove along a dark and bumpy road in darkness. However today it was back to birding proper with what was an unexpected trip up to Druridge Bay. Unexpected outings often bring the best results, could today be an example? Kestrel and Common Buzzard were seen as we headed for Cresswell Pond.
A hide with a view. (Cresswell Pond)
Light soon improved as the grey clouded sky began to break up, initially giving blue patches of space and some sunlight. Our first significant find was the remains of a kill at the bird feeder outside the hide. The only remains of what turned out to be a Song Thrush was its bill and bloodstained feathers. From the hide we saw the remains of a Grey Heron which looked to me as if it had been taken by a fox, such was the broken-up state of it. Nature in action can often be a bloody business. It wasn’t long before we were engrossed in watching live birds and enjoying the sight of flighty flocks of Lapwing, Dunlin and Curlew. The Lapwing were the most numerous and we estimated 300+, but having counted them in one image taken of a small proportion I think we may well have underestimated. The flock of Lapwings were split into three separate groupings and spent much of the time in the air. When seen in such numbers in winter it would be easy to forget how much of a threat this species faces as a breeding bird in the UK. Other waders seen included Golden Plover, Redshank, Ruff (3), a single Sanderling and Common Snipe on the edge of the reedbed. Watching flocks of waders has always been a favourite area of bird watching for me, especially when they are in flight and as Sam had said on a previous visit, ‘if Lapwings were rare they would attract many twitchers’.
Lapwing and Dunlin
At 11.25am we distinctly heard the call of a Tawny Owl from the east side of the pond, maybe having been disturbed. Little Grebe was heard calling and birds on the water included Wigeon, Teal, Goldeneye and Red breasted Merganser. A Moorhen entertained with its flashing whited tail underside outside of the hide. Such was the atmosphere we stayed far longer than expected. We did eventually have lunch at the Drift Café which as usual was packed tightly with visitors.
Moorhen (Common can = Interesting)
Common Snipe (Courtesy of Samuel Hood)
We drove to Druridge Pools and had a nice view once again of the Little Owl roosting in its favoured spot. The were at least a dozen Grey Herons in the area towards the pools, thankfully all alive this time. Walking north from the turning circle we soon found what we had hoped too. A mixed flock of finches and buntings contained we reckon about 40 Twite which eventually showed well, when they settled only yards from us. Along with the Twite we saw Reed Bunting, Linnet, Chaffinch and Goldfinch. One of the highlights of the day. We’d seen a pair of Stonechat along the way. In the fields opposite was a large flock of Canada Geese and a smaller one of Greylag Geese. Pink footed Geese had been seen in the air earlier on.
Little Owl. Courtesy of Samuel Hood.
A quick watch of the flat calm sea gave us 3 Great Crested Grebes, Razorbills and Red Throated Divers
On the walk back to the pools we found Long tailed Tit. The pools themselves were quite but we managed to add Shoveler and Gadwall to our day list along with two Roe Deer, being the first of the year. As the days remain quite short we decided to miss out East Chevington as we had heard there wasn’t too much about and instead we made for Newbiggin.
After having had a cup of tea at Newbiggin the cloud closed in and the light began to go so we decided to bring what had been a good day to a close and head for home whilst listening to the painful attempts of Newcastle United to beat Oxford in the FA Cup! The ‘toon’ was dull, but half-way home the skies were not as we met blue sky and sunshine again. A decision was taken to divert to Prestwick Carr, and a good decision it proved to be.
On arrival we soon had the Eastern Yellow Wagtail onto our life list. Yes, you all know we don’t rush with these things! It was feeding away in the field along with many Pied Wagtails, a couple of Redwings and a Robin. I was more than happy with the sighting. Afterwards I was mindful to read up my Helm Guide to Pipits and Wagtails. What a complicated group of birds, but I do feel more educated about the Eastern Yellow Wagtail now.
Eastern Yellow Wagtail (Courtesy of Samuel Hood)
After a good bit of time with the wagtail we walked down the bumpy road towards the feeder having more sightings of Redwing and Fieldfare along the way. We both feel that yet again the bumpy road has been stretched. It seems to get longer on each visit. By the time we got to the feeder the sun was setting but we still found good numbers of Reed Bunting, Tree Sparrow, tits and what we were really after Willow Tit. Earlier Sam had found what we are sure was a Long tailed Tit's nest. Very interesting as I have often spoken in talks about the complicated structure of this nest which can often contain hundreds of feathers and which is designed to expand as chicks grow. This got us on to chat about helpers at the nest, of which this species is one, with un-paired young or failed breeders often helping an adult pair with the feeding of chicks.
As we walked back to the car darkness was setting in and we were the last folk on the carr I reckon. I’d mentioned the possibility of Barn Owl earlier and low and behold we saw one very briefly as it flew out of a tree and northwards onto the carr. We couldn’t relocate what was our third species of owl seen today, but had the company of calling Willow Tit almost all the way back to the car. A wonderful atmosphere on what had been a mild January day brought our birding to an end and it was black dark when we got home.
Prestwick Carr (Courtesy of Samuel Hood)