Sunday, 17 August 2014

Northumberland; Caspian Gulls and.. Canaries?

Plenty of bird based wanderings to boast of this week with a good deal of time spent roaming around the patch as well as a few jaunts down the coast. Having done my very best to ignore it's existence for the past week I finally caved and set off towards Amble in search of the molting Caspian Gull which appears to have taken up residence by the local chippy. Initially I arrived on site to the news that the gull had taken off in the direction I arrived, likely flying over my head as I exiting the car and trundled towards the harbor. Not the best start! Anyways I settled in for long wait, enjoying a good hour and a half's natter with some of the local guys who were also looking for the Casp, some of them for the second or third time! Whilst waiting I bemused myself observing some of the more common Amble residents with Turnstone, Redshank, Dunlin and Ringed Plover all scurrying round on the mud, all be in small numbers. Lapwing, Oystercatcher and Curlew were also in evidence whilst a single Red-Breasted Merganser and a good two dozen hideously tame Eiders were all very interesting. These however lapsed into insignificance when a shout from another birder heralded the arrival of the Caspian Gull, complete with stonking yellow ring to make identification even easier. True be told I was a little skeptical about this bird from the beginning, almost convincing myself not to twitch it as a result of being little more than a "dodgy Herring Gull". Glad to say I was wrong however and when the bird eventually stopped flying and settled on the sand bar the differences between the two species became quite clear. The darker back of the Casp was an obvious difference, as was the darker eye but for me the most striking difference was the "softer appearance" of the bird compared to the more menacing visage of the Herrings. Definitely glad I made the effort to see this bird, thanks in no small part to the encouragement of a number of local birders. 

Never been a "Gull guy" but..

Think this counts as "Showing well"
Departing Amble at around lunch time I was offered to lift up to Hauxley, a reserve that I largely ignore on my travels given the slightly arduous walking distance! Exiting the car a flash of yellow immediately caught our attention as a small bird dropped onto the footpath ahead of us. Usually this would herald the arrival of a Yellow Wagtail or perhaps a Yellowhammer but on this occasion we were both surprised to find a Canary sat before us, contently collecting seeds from the side of the footpath much like a Linnet or similar British bird. Well this bird was certainly not British but amused me to no end as it went about its business. I don't fancie it's chances in the long run however with its approachable nature and garish colours making it the ideal target for a passing Sparrowhawk or Stoat. For now at least it appears to enjoying the current bounty of Thistle seeds. Leaving the tweety yellow thing to it's own devices we headed for the hides with the first yeilding little other than a few Sand Martins and a lone Common Sandpiper. The second proved much more productive with an absolutely monstrous number of geese loafing around on the water directly opposing the hide. Among these were some 300 Greylags and 200 Canada Geese, by far the biggest gathering of geese I've seen in Northumberland outside of Pink-Feet season. Among these 7 Bar-Headed Geese stood out like a sore thumb and the resident Chinese Swan Goose stayed distant during the course of our visit. Two other interesting geese also caught our attention with the first being a weird looking Canada/Greylag hybrid and the second almost certainly turning out to be a Swan Goose/Canada hybrid. The enormous bill, posture and monstrous size all pointed to this whilst the presence of the feral CSG makes the mix very likely indeed. Weird looking beastie! 
Swan Goose/Canada Goose Hybird..
The Canary gave excellent views ;D
Departing the relative petting zoo that is Hauxley our final port of call was Druridge Pools where the large pool seemed devoid of life excluding a single Snipe and the pair of Great Crested Grebes still incubating their very late brood. The Oddie hide proved much more exciting in comparison with a cracking Wood Sandpiper the obvious highlight though 3 Greenshank, 3 Ruff, 3 Dunlin and the usual cast of Mallards, Moorhens, Coots and corvids gave us plenty to look at. Both Spoonbills and Little Egrets were conspicuous in their absence, with at least two of each present on every summertime visit until now. On a side note I'm delighted to hear Little Egrets bred at Druridge this year, congrats to Iain Robson for his detective work. I wonder how long it will be before the Spoonies too begin to breed? Druridge is beginning to look more and more like the Gambia as the years go on!

Back on the home front and this week has seen a few overdue additions to this years Patchwork Challenge total with a stonking Spotted Flycatcher located in the hedge running alongside the old top at Widdrington. This delighted me to no end with Spot Fly the most striking of my patch omissions during the six years or so I've birded the Stobswood area. Garden Warbler next perhaps? Anyways, the next new bird came in the form of a splendid male Lesser Whitethroat glimpsed from my bedroom window as I tried my very best to get rid of a persistent hangover. Just goes to show, good birds can occur at any time! Autumn migration is well and truely underway at Stobswood with the Flycatcher an obvious indicator of this. Warblers appear to be massing on site with the old brickyard proving an excellent location with peak counts of 10 Chiffchaff, 8 Willow Warbler, 5 Blackcap, 5 Whitethroat and 1 Sedge Warbler noted in the immediate vicinity. If I'm going to patch tick Garden Warbler this seems like the area to focus my attentions though a passage Reed Warbler or Pied Flycatcher would go down equally well. Elsewhere on the patch things have been relatively quiet with wader numbers tailing off somewhat compared to the last couple of weeks, peak counts of 5 Greenshank, 2 Common Sandpiper, 5 Ruff, 3 Curlew, 5 Ringed Plover and 2 Dunlin were however obtained from a few days spent lurking on the opencast. Still plenty time for a wayward wading rarity! Aside from these only a single Little Egret, 2 Bullfinch, 3 Nuthatch and 2 Great Spotted Woodpecker were noteworthy whereas wildfowl numbers now constitute approximately 20 Mallard, 40 Tufted Duck, 10 Gadwall, 10 Teal, 2 Wigeon and 2 Mute Swans. 
Not what you expect to see in rural Northumberland!
Well hello there..
Back in the garden again!