Saturday, 19 April 2014

Birding the Bay..

The majority of Thursday was spend wandering the length of Druridge Bay in an effort to year tick some of the more specialist and conspicuous summer migrants still absent from my steadily increasing year list. Though the hoped for Groppers, Whitethroats and Sedgies continued to elude me I still managed a healthy species count, four year ticks and a wholesome and for once incredibly obliging lifer, but more on that in a bit. With the sun shining for a third consecutive day (all be it intermittently) and a good range of birds and other beasties on show the day was more than successful and I feel I can now return to university feeling somewhat more content! This return visit may be short lived however should I prevail at Thursdays interview for an 'assistant ranger' position at St. Abbs Head, Berwickshire. I'm currently struggling to think of a better start to my post academic life but as we all know nothing is certain and I can only try my best to impress! Fingers crossed, now back on topic..

Setting out at 5.30am I opted to walk a new route to the coast heading south-east from Widdrington along a newly discovered dirt track that leads directly to Cresswell Pond as opposed to my usual and much more time consuming route along the coast road! Arriving at the site just after 6.00am I was delighted to find no fewer than 6 Avocet feeding in the flooded field north of the causeway all of which showed impeccably as I did my very best to cross the causeway without causing disturbance.. Thankfully I didn't and the delightfully monochrome waders paid me no heed as I past them by. Elsewhere on the wader front things were relatively quiet with 10 Oystercatcher and 16 Redshank feeding in the nearby fields whilst only 2 Lapwing and a single Curlew were observed during the course of my visit. Wildfowl were somewhat more numerous (much to my relief) with 22 Tufted Duck joined by 2 Goldeneye and 2 Red-Breasted Merganser in the center of the pond whilst a good number of dabbling ducks also showed well. Among these 10 Gadwall were perhaps the most interesting though c12 Mallard, 10 Teal and c20 Wigeon also put in an appearance. These were utterly eclipsed by my next find however when a stonking drake Garganey sailed out of the rushes surrounding the smaller farm pond. Though the bird stayed just out optimal camera range I did however enjoy good views of the marvelously patterned duck through my scope with 15 minutes devoted solely to observing this special if somewhat overdue life tick. Elsewhere on the pond Mute Swan and Canada Geese were very much apparent whilst Coot, Moorhen, Grey Heron and Cormorant also put in the odd appearance. On the way out a scan of the farm revealed 10 Tree Sparrow, a small charm of Goldfinch and perhaps more interestingly a cracking male Stonechat in full song. Bravo!

Record shot of Cresswell's Garganey.
Ignoring the hurricane force winds tearing along the beach I decided a brief sea watch was in order though in truth I only spent 10 minutes scanning the waters of the Bay until a combination of frozen hands and teary eyes forced me from my dune top perch. Although short lived this venture proved fruitful with my first Gannet of 2014 noted heading north. A smart Red-Throated Diver was also close in alongside 6 Eider, two additional Mergansers and the odd Black-Headed, Herring and Great Black-Backed Gull. Not bad for 10 minutes. The Budge screen at Druridge provided a welcome respite from the wind and came up trumps with some 24 Shoveler showing well amongst an assortment of other ducks and geese. Good numbers of Lapwing were as always a pleasure to behold though little else other than the odd croaking Pheasant could be seen causing me to migrate northwards to the Oddie hide where I was immediately greeted by a Otter hunting along the far shore. This being only the second time I've seen this species in the bay with the first only a few months back at Cresswell. This individual showed better than the previous however giving good views for around a quarter of an hour before slinking off into the reeds never to be seen again. Little in the way of waterfowl were present on the lake likely as a result of the otters earlier antics though the pool did come up trumps in the migration stakes with 2 Yellow Wagtail dropping in outside the hide closely followed by some 20 Sand Martins and a few Swallow. These aside the only other migrants on offer here consisted of a few 'hweeting' Chiffchaff in the scrub belt and a very gordy pair of Wheatear a little further along in the dunes. 
Plenty Shoveler around Druridge at the minute.
A enjoyable jaunt down to East Chevington turned up yet more Wheatear and a few scattered parties of Hirundines though the scrubby areas seemed utterly devoid of life with not one summer warbler observed during the whole visit. A second male Stonechat did however go someway to compensating my losses. Likewise the reed bed seemed similarly quite with 6 Reed Bunting the only things on offer here until the male Marsh Harrier gave a brief but enjoyable fly-by with an escort of yet more Sand Martins. This time around 30. An hour spend scoping the lake proved productive with no less than 6 Great Crested Grebe noted, my highest record for the site! Alongside these the usual characters were all well represented with Mute Swan, Greylag, Tuftie, Gadwall and Cormorant showing well alongside a single and very noisy Sandwich Tern (year tick) which made a few passes over the lake before heading back out to sea. This more than made up for the absence of Long-Tailed Duck though the Black-Necked Grebe reported the day after my visit was somewhat frustrating. A half hour spent staking out the 'feeder' hide for once didn't turn up the usual Redpoll and Siskin, much to my dismay though a handful of Chaffinch, Blue Tit and two Willow Warbler were enough to keep me entertained for a little while. From here I opted for a brief wander round the Country Park where another Great Crested Grebe was undoubtedly the highlight. The gathering of wildfowl around the routine 'duck feeding' area was also quite interesting with a host of farmyard escapees (or evictees) present amongst the usual Mallards and swans. 5 Muscovy Duck were amusing, whilst four 'mallard type' feral ducks and two all white Indian Runners were a new addition to the sites plastic list. Elsewhere here only a few more Tufted Duck and a pair of Gadwall were of note, the latter of which surprised me to no end by coming to bread.  

Not often you see these guys at such close quarters

 Hoping to carry on from my earlier good luck by 4.00pm I was out the house again this time for a final wander around the patch. This proved successful with a lone Dunlin giving me patch tick number 88 of this year whilst the Little Owl remained in residence and as usual made for outstanding viewing. The Green-Winged Teal seems to have left however though as I am soon to follow suit I can't say I mind too much. There you have it, It's been a good few weeks back home in the North-East with some cracking birds to show for it. Among these the Garganey takes the prize for the most interesting though my self found Black Redstart and the three patch Mediterranean Gulls fall into a close second with an honorable mention to the long staying Great Northern diver on the Blyth Estuary and the Egyptian Goose that seems to have visited every site in the North-East during the course of my home visit. Right, I'm off to hand in my Dissertation in it's final format and come Thursday will be sweating it out in Scotland in and attempt to land my first conservation based job role.. Exciting stuff! Updates at a later date. 

Chaffinch at the Chev feeders
Death stares from the local Little Owl.
Honorable mention to this guy, been on the Blyth since Boxing day!
and THAT goose.