Saturday, 18 March 2017


This morning I followed my usual route up the coast via Cresswell. I decided to call first at Druridge Bay Country Park and view East Chevington north pond from the hide where the Pacific Diver has been seen most recently. This was my first time in this hide which, although having a restricted view to the west, is well worth adding to my regular visit list.

On the way, a field between High Chibburn Farm and Widdrington held over four hundred Fieldfares and a few, possibly six, Redwings.

There was no sign of pacifica from the north hide at East Chevington, but there were plenty of other birds of interest.

There were four male and five female ducks showing strong Scaup characteristics. Given the poor light and that they were distant, I will leave other sage minds to decide whether they are or not. Having recently been looking at hybrid ducks, the mind boggles at the possible permutations for Scaup, Pochard, Tuftie. They looked convincing Scaup to me, especially when a more slightly built female Tuftie swam alongside.

A pair of Pheasants plundered the grain under the feeders, which attracted two Blue Tits, and singles of Goldfinch and Reed Bunting. Meanwhile, a Water Rail screeched occasionally from the dense reed.

Everywhere you looked there were Goldeneyes; a few displaying enthusiastically. There was a smattering of Tufties, Teals, Gadwalls and Mallards, a pair of Red Breasted Mergansers, quite a few Mute Swans and a few Coots. Little Grebes were more evident from their calls than from sightings.

A small bird attracted my attention. Dark cap, white cheeks, dark back and light sides; diving frequently. A lovely non-breeding plumage Slavonian Grebe.

There were at least four Chiffchaffs calling in the country park.

I returned to view Cresswell Pond from the roadside to the north. The eighteen Whooper Swans that arrived last week were still there. On the north pool, there were seventy-five Dunlins, four Avocets, one Ruff, four Ringed Plovers and around ten Redshanks. There was an occasional fly-by of four Turnstones and regular visits from very active and noisy Oystercatchers.

As I returned towards home, a flock of Whoopers flew north over the River Lyne, so I turned around in pursuit. As I hoped, they joined the others at Cresswell Pond and swelled the flock to thirty-nine.

The forecast was cloudy but fine at first, followed by rain. Got that back-to-front, didn’t they?

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Out for a lark

I finally managed to make time to see the Shore Larks at East Chevington today. Seed has been distributed near to the dunes and the Twites enjoyed the feast.

One day I will have my new(ish) lens and a sunny day with interesting birds. Today it was overcast, so it was ISO 1000 and 1200. I took a large number of poor record shots and a few of these are below.

There were the usual 7 Shore Larks. They were rather twitchy because of the number of dog walkers, but they came quite close twice in the hour that I watched.

Trying to count a Twite flock is a considerable challenge. You start at one end and half way through the ones you have counted fly to the end of those yet to be counted. I got to 103 today.

The Sanderlings, 23 in all, were mostly busy on the tideline, but occasionally joined the Twites.

A couple of Skylarks joined the throng and one had a brief song flight. 

Along the track several Robins and one Blackbird were singing.

There was not at lot out to sea; I saw one Red Throated Diver.

Friday, 13 January 2017

Would Gyr believe it?

This morning at around 11.00 am I came across, what I assume to be, an escaped Gyr Falcon in the field to the north of Lynemouth flash.

I got some very poor shots that I show below. The flight shots show what appears to be some sort of transmitter on its back.

Its behaviour was very odd. It was settled on the ground for some time, apparently 'playing' with either a clod of mud or a lump of dung. It picked it up and shook its foot, hurling the lump a few feet away, then sort of galloped after it and repeated the process. It looked as though it was either practicing playing with prey or, perhaps, repeating actions learned with a lure. I could not see any jesses. It flew north after I had been watching for about 20 minutes.

I met two guys at Druridge, one of whom has seen Gyrs in Greenland and suggested that falconers would not fit a transmitter and perhaps it is a genuine wild bird that is part of a nestling tagging experiment. I believe that they fit trackers at some of the bird of prey centres in this country.

Comments on this would be appreciated.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Catching up again.

Goodness me! It’s nearly three months since my last post!

A quick catch up starts with the garden. No sign of Siskins before the end of February, when a pair started to visit every day. Then, after a couple of weeks, we had only a male visiting; not a very strikingly marked bird, so I guess he may be in his first year. 

Over this last week we have had up to six Siskins. They have been displaying over the garden and the males have been trying to outdo one another in the singing and calling stakes. Lovely lively song, interspersed with a twanging zing (or should that be ting?). As has happened everywhere, Greenfinch numbers have crashed with only singles visiting occasionally.

Blackbirds hung around in number until the end of March, which gave much cause for scrapping between males. We now seem to be down to the local pair, who guard their feeding ground with a fair degree of ferocity.

My first summer migrants were picked up around Druridge a month ago: Sand Martins and Chiffchaffs. Two weeks ago I saw my first Wheatear near Lynemouth and on the same day Swallows were hawking over Druridge Pools. On that same day I visited East Chevington and had good views of two male Mergansers displaying for all they were worth to a single female who seemed totally unimpressed.

Today there are still three Whoopers in a field just north west of Cresswell Pond and amongst a flock of about twenty Turnstones, I also picked up three Purple Sandpipers at Snab Point, remarkably my first for this year. A single Sandwich Tern was hunting the bay.

This morning I viewed Cresswell Pond from the roadside near the north pool and could see eight Avocets. There seems to be a larger than usual number of Linnets around at the moment, they have probably benefited from the mild winter.

Monday, 25 January 2016

Out and about again.

Over the last two months we have been somewhat busy working around the installation of a new kitchen and have had little time excursions to the coast.

Last Wednesday my beloved and I had a post Drift Café lunch walk along the beach at Cresswell. There were around 600 Pink Feet in the field next to the café. Some birders had reported seeing Bean, White Fronted and Barnacle Geese with these birds, but we detected none. The beach was quiet for birds; quite a few people enjoying the reasonable weather.

I spent most of Saturday visiting both Cresswell Pond and Druridge Pools. Lots of birds at Cresswell, including the long staying Dowitcher, a Ruff, a Knot and two Barwits. Blackwits had been seen, but they evaded me.

Several of the folks that I met in the hide reported a movement of Pink Feet from the north and off the sea earlier in the day. A large flock two fields inland from the pond held at least 2000 birds. Again, I had a close look at the Pink Feet in the field near The Drift Café, but could see none of the reported White Fronts or Bean Geese.

From the Budge screen I looked in vain for the Water Pipit. There were a lot of Widgeons and Teals along with a splendid single Pintail. Shovellers were very actively chasing each other, but no signs yet of their wonderful nodding gudunk gudunk display. At both Cresswell and Druridge there were large numbers of Lapwings, which were regularly spooked by nothing at all and the sky was alive with their calls throughout the day.

From the centre hide I had good views of a female/juvenile Marsh Harrier that flew from south to north. I had a missing primary and another birder that I met had seen the same bird on previous occasions at both Druridge and Chevington.

On the main pool at Druridge it was good to see three pairs of Pochards along with at least twenty Tufties. There was one drake Merganser with two ducks at one end of the pond and at the other end a duck with two drakes.

I watched a Little Grebe that fed very close to the hide. It was catching Sticklebacks. One particularly large fish was not dispatched by the vigorous head shaking before being swallowed, so it stuck in the Grebe’s throat. The Grebe shook its head even more vigorously and ejected the fish, then caught it again, this time making sure it was fully stunned before being swallowed. It was catching at least three fish a minute.

Today I arrived at Cresswell around midday. No sign of any Pink Feet. The only sighting throughout the afternoon was a distant flock beyond Widdrington. I didn’t visit Cresswell Pond, but spent time in the windy Budge Screen. Still no luck with the Water Pipit. Still loads of ducks and Lapwings. This time a pair of Pintails were busily upending. A mystery raptor sat in one of the pines west of Budge Field. I suspect it was the female Merlin that has been around for a while; visibility by then was poor.
I saw two pairs of Stonechats at Druridge. One by the road east of the main pond and the other by the gate in the south west corner of Budge Field.

The feeders at Druridge are very active, with lots of Goldfinches joining the Tree Sparrows. A quick drive by of Widdrington Moor Lake provided a dozen Siskins in the roadside trees. Lots of gulls on the lake – Black Headed, Herring and a few Common, with two immature Great Black Backs. A large flock of Coots grazed on the far bank.

The sea at Snab Point was very quiet. The tide was well in and I am still missing Purple Sandpipers this winter. 

Monday, 30 November 2015

A catch-up from last week.

A quick catch up from last Wednesday. I decided to get up fairly early and get to the coast just as the light was getting good enough to sea-watch.

I arrived at Snab Point at around 7:45. It was overcast and the light very flat. There was little or no wind, the sea was calm and the tide low. I spent about an hour scanning the sea. Very few birds were in evidence, but I did see around a dozen Red Throated Divers.

A trip up the coast followed, where I spied two large flocks of Pinkfeet heading inland towards the lake west of Widdrington. They eventually landed somewhere in the land between West Chevington and Broomhill. There must have been more than a thousand.

Having failed to find the feeding Pinkfeet, I went to Druridge Pools. As I got out of the car, I was greeted by a female Merlin hurtling south along the dunes. She veered towards the trees alongside the Budge Field and spooked a flock of finches, before disappearing from view. A short while later I noted a flock of Starlings and Lapwings rise rapidly from the fields towards Cresswell Pond and I guessed that Mrs Merlin had passed by.

From the Budge Hide there were good views of a large Lapwing flock. I stopped counting at six hundred. A Little Egret dropped in from the east and promptly disappeared in the long grass.
The middle hide afforded good views of a flock of one hundred and nineteen Curlews feeding alongside Lapwings, Widgeons, a small flock of Redshanks and a single Ruff.

The main pool held a good mixture of ducks. Mallards, Widgeons, Gadwalls, Tufties, Teals, Goldeneyes, Shovellers and a single drake Pochard. Two Little Grebes fed on small fish very close to the hide. In the distance near East Chevington reserve, I could see a female Marsh Harrier quartering the ground, with angry Crows in pursuit.

I paid a second visit to Snab Point, where the tide had receded. Apart from Eider Ducks and one or two Red Throated Divers, the sea close in was quiet. Towards the horizon, a large flock of gulls followed a fishing smack. As I looked through my scope, an out of focus black and burnt orange object blocked my view. A male Stonechat sat on a plant no more than five metres away. It was joined by its mate and they foraged for a few minutes before flying out of view.

I then drove north to check again for geese and to look over the still very full Cresswell Pond. A flock of over five hundred Pinkfeet settled two fields west of the pond. I didn’t bother to visit the Cresswell hide.

Thursday, 12 November 2015

Long Billed Dowitcher at Cresswell Pond

Yesterday I decided to see if the Long Billed Dowitcher was still at Cresswell Pond.

I arrived at around 9:30 to news that the Dowitcher was still present, but that I’d just missed a Black Tern and a Little Gull.

Cresswell Pond is very full at present, with no exposed mud other than around the perimeter, so any waders present were confined to the west and north shores. For the two and a half hours that I stayed at Cresswell the Dowitcher was feeding alongside Teals and Widgeons on the north of the pond. It remained within a ten metre strip, alternating between feeding, grooming and disappearing behind a duck.

Having read that field separation of Long and Short Billed Dowitchers is, at best, a job for experts who have a good close view, I hoped that, at least, I would get a good enough view for it to be identifiable as a Dowitcher.  Happily, with the help of a view through a better scope than mine, I was satisfied that I would be able to identify a Dowitcher if lucky enough to see one again.

The Dowitcher is physically like a Common Snipe, but the patterning is more like a Godwit. Whereas a Snipe tends to walk and stand with bent legs, the Dowitcher always had straight legs, making it look much longer legged than a Snipe. The size is a giveaway in comparison to a Godwit. The most distinctive characteristic was its feeding action, which is described by the Handbook as being like the needle of a sewing machine. It feeds with a horizontal stance, beak held close to the ground and uses a short rapid stabbing motion. I didn’t see it probing as would most other long billed waders.

The gait of the Dowitcher was slow and short stepped. It did’t move far from the spot whilst feeding. Very different from the other long beaked, long legged birds likely to be seen in Northumberland. Redshanks and Spotshanks stride purposefully and Greenshanks have that long, swaggering gait. Godwits also tend to quite active whilst feeding.

Several people came to the hide and went away happy to have seen this rare visitor.

Although the Dowitcher was a new bird for me, it was a species that I have seen on several occasions over the years that stole the show. Flocks of Starlings and Lapwings suddenly took flight from the fields to the north of Cresswell Pond. The Starlings formed two tight flying balls and I knew we had a raptor in the vicinity. Suddenly a Merlin attached one of the balls. It caught nothing and then flew over the dunes, before settling within view on a fencepost in the dunes. After a short rest it flew across the pond quite close to the hide. Certainly a female bird judging by her size, but I don’t know sufficient about plumage to say whether adult or juvenile.

In between the excitement of the new bird and the Merlin, we had a flypast of 30 Whooper Swans. There were several juvenile birds. A large flock of finches appeared twice near the farm, but were too far away to identify. One of those present in the hide picked out Goldfinches, but judging by size, I suspect that there may have been a Twite or few.

A Water Rail entertained its audience by running in and out of the reeds in front of the hide. As the tide came in, around 50 Redshanks landed on the west side of the pond. I saw no other waders.

I went up to East Chevington at midday. I was surprised to see a Dragonfly hawking along the hedge. A female Marsh Harrier was quartering the rough grassland next to the north lake. At both Cresswell and Chevington there were good numbers of Goldeneyes and Little Grebes. Conversely, I only saw one pair of Gadwalls and a smattering of Tufties.

On my return down the coast, a flock of around 120 Pinkfeet flew south to the second field west of Cresswell Pond. By this time, a large number (probably around 500) Widgeons had settled on the pond. The sea at Snab Point was very quiet, with a few gulls and Eiders.