The only thing permanent is change
Big changes, small changes, it’s all change in March. Winter visitors departing, summer visitors arriving, another shift of our collective pandemic state of mind and for my kids a long awaited return to sport and other activities. One of those opens up different destinations the other adds curbs and limits on my birding time and locations that will no doubt become apparent in the weeks that lie ahead.
Looking back at the first few days of March much of my free time was spent roaming around the local ponds and flashes to the east, highlights included the Spotted Redshank and Red-necked Grebe at Bothal Pond, the latter a first site record for me ( not my find but I made up for it by scoping it from Pegswood Pit Top on 7th to add it to the ‘Pit Top List’). At least two Twite remained out west at West Shield Hill and an adult Mediterranean Gull was loafing on the Cooper’s Kennel Flash on the 7th.
The status of Caspian Gull in Northumberland is certainly in flux with an unprecedented eight or nine reports in the period between 1 August 2020 and end March 2021. A case of greater familiarity brings more records or a genuine uptick in the number of individuals wintering in the area? Time will tell if this increase in reports is sustained. At least five different individuals have been involved based on the ageing of birds reported (juvenile/1st-winter/2nd-winter/3rd-summer and adult). Anyway this is a rambling, roundabout way of highlighting one of the best finds of the month for me this cracking 1st-winter Caspian Gull at Queen Elizabeth II CP, the same individual was seen earlier in the month on the Coquet Estuary but obviously decided on a quick foray south on 12th.
With the kids back at school for several days and into my third week since vaccination I took a short drive inland into the emptiness of Harwood Forest on 17th to look for the Great Grey Shrike found a couple of days earlier. A good 10km circular walk was generally quiet for birds though the shrike was found it mostly kept its distance.
I’d put in several hours on the ‘pit top’ by mid-month working hard for some visible migration, I was delighted with a northbound Yellowhammer that just kept going until I lost it in the distance over Longhirst Station but the morning of the 20th all the stars aligned for a great morning’s birding. One of the national highlights of the month, the northbound movement of Britain’s wintering Whooper Swan population had begun further south over the previous two days as big numbers departed middle-Britain bound for Iceland. Determined to get in on the action I hit the pit at 07:00. In my first scan out to the west I picked up two large birds in my bins moving north some 4-5km distant, something about the wing length and flight action… swinging the scope around i suddenly had two Common Cranes moving low for the next 30-40 seconds before disappearing behind the roll of the land as they cracked on north. What were almost certainly the same birds were seen moving north at Dowlaw, Borders some 3.5 hours later that morning (per BirdGuides).
Id have gone home happy but more was to come as a commotion of gulls and corvids over Ashington drew my attention to what was instantly recognisable as a Red Kite that i was able to track north all the way to Ellington and was duly seen at Cresswell and East Chevington by other observers. Remarkably a second individual came over high from the south a little later in the morning, one of half a dozen reports of Red Kites moving through the south-east of the county that morning in an unusual Spring passage.
The Whooper Swans didn’t disappoint either with up to 250 noted moving north to both east and west of the pit top over the morning, none directly overhead but it was clear there was some serious movement going on as flocks were tracked from the Tyne north. I noted a further 60 over the next couple of days too.
Another local birder Debra B had E-birded a Mandarin at a site just up the Wansbeck Valley around 22nd so I took a walk on the morning of 24th and was pleased to discover four on a short wooded stretch of river along with the full suite of Wansbeck specialities (Kingfisher, Dipper and Grey Wagtail). Again another species with an apparent changing status in the county as the last five years have seen a small population establish and began to proliferate on the Wansbeck, presumably originating from the North Tyne population as it has grown and expanded.
I slipped down to Spital Point on the south side of Newbiggin on 25th, hoping that there might be some bunting action in the big field or even a coastal Wheatear but to no avail. as ever when birding, all was not lost as the small gull flock in the centre of the field had five Mediterranean Gulls ensconced within, an adult and four 1st-winters. An hour later on the ‘Hospital Pool’ at Woodhorn there were a further six, this time three each of 1st and 2nd-winter and a Northern Shoveler just to provide some variety.
Also of note was the male Mealy Redpoll that continued to drop into the garden periodically in the latter half of March and my first Small Tortoiseshell of the year on 27th. A pair of Avocets were briefly at one of the flashes during the month before moving on elsewhere. Oh and this, the least said about this beauty the better….