October ended in blustery, wet weather smashing in waves from the Atlantic, not the best birding weather for the East Coast. Birding the final couple of days of the month had a distinct wintry feel as a result. The half dozen Tundra Bean Geese remained in the fields between Longhirst Flash and Bothal Pond. Searching nearby arable on 30th produced one or two sizeable flocks of Pink-feet with c 1500 individuals involved in stubble at Longhirst Station and North Linton Farm, despite extensive checking a few Greylag Geese were all I could drag out the flocks. The Linton Hooded Crow has settled back in and as noted first by sharp-eyed John Malloy it’s actually ringed, typically wary I doubt anyone is reading it anytime soon.
Whilst looking through the gulls from Ellington Suez Tip the same day I had five Jays fly north along the rail line towards the Potland Burn shelter belt and as I was returning to the car a single Common Crossbill flew calling in the same direction.
I still have several ‘soft’ birds that I’ve not seen in the Newbiggin/Woodhorn patch for one reason or another so I was pleased to knock down a couple of those pins on the opening days of November First Neil Osbourne picked up a Spotted Redshank at Beacon Point, I’d been working out of Darlington until mid-afternoon so had to drive home pick up optics and in ever declining light pick through the small high tide roost but luckily the bird was still present early evening. Eight Purple Sandpipers and five Grey Plovers continued the wintry theme. The following morning an early morning visit produced one of the Little Egrets that appeared to have been making dawn visits to the flashes judging by AP’s reports.
Other birding in the first few days produced a Grey Wagtail at Beacon Point on 2nd among a loose mixed flock of Pied Wagtails, Rock Pipits and Meadow Pipits. A male Marsh Harrier, 2 Mediterranean Gulls (adult and 1st-winter) along with a flocks of 95 Gadwall and 96 Greylag Geese at Linton Lane NR. At Queen Elizabeth II CP an adult Whooper Swan has taken up residence among the Mute Swan flock and the feral Barnacle Goose was still around on 2nd.
On 4th Tim Daley found a smart adult Shorelark on the beach in the North Bay, the following day it was relocated in the South Bay and continued to commute between the two until 7th. This is the first I’ve seen here since 1992 though there have been several records in the intervening years.
The same day (4th) Graham Sorrie located two Hawfinch at the Abbey Meadows Hornbeams. A short walk over lunch picked up one of them actively feeding, in fact it was the sharp tugs on the Hornbeam seed moving branches in otherwise calm conditions that proved the best method of locating it in trees that still had a high percentage of leaf cover.
Saturday 7th was spent walking a fog-bound circuit between Cupola Bridge-Plankey Mill-Kingswood Burn, a single Woodcock and small flock of c 25 Brambling were the avian highlights along with the ethereal views from the high point late afternoon as the sun briefly broke through and pushed the mists into the valleys. We walked the final 1km in near-darkness with Pheasants exploding from the tall beeches and conifers all around us.
Brief visits to Linton Lane and Bothal Pond on 9th detected a small recent arrival of Common Goldeneye with 11 and 8 respectively, each site including two adult drakes. By 16th Gadwall numbered 109 the first three-figured count of the species I’ve ever personally recorded in Northumberland.
Settled cool calm conditions on 26th found me visiting a small number of coastal sites, three Mediterranean Gulls fed nonchalantly by the roadside along Newbiggin’s Central Parkway, I could see a decent scoter raft off Cambois, a five minute drive south, so nipped down and counted 200+ Common Scoter with a number of other birds loosely associating with them. Best of the ‘others’ was a Great Crested Grebe, a half dozen Red-throated Divers slid under the surface nearby, whilst a flock of seven Red-breasted Mergansers scooted about in typically prickly fashion.
Two miles further south at North Blyth a dark-looking diver off the Alcan slipway proved to be an adult Great Northern Diver it showed well on a flat sea albeit a little distantly.
Nearby five insulae Snow Buntings had been present for a few days and made for confiding photo targets as did the eight Twite that were hanging out on the weedy slopes nearby. The Snow Buntings blend rather well with the weedy waste ground and stony concrete sea wall. Think this is an adult female based on pointed centres to scapulars, broad tertial and greater covert fringes, contrast between mantle and scapulars, (shout up if you think different please).
It’s proving to be a good Autumn for all three of the species just mentioned with decent numbers present nationally, as was the case with a good Autumn wader passage it suggests (to me at least) that many northerly breeders had a good year.