April did what April does, one minute you’re fooled into thinking it’s Spring and leaving the layers and gloves behind and then the weather says “Hold my beer!”
A cold northerly airflow for much of the month seemed to slow progress, for many species on the East Coast at least, hirundines particularly were notable by their absence from many places (or at least the ones I was visiting).
With Finn having resumed full training I’m back to having a spare hour and a half on the outskirts of Newcastle on at least a couple of nights a week. Over the last couple of years I’ve variously walked and birded around many of the local urban footpaths and occasionally a little further afield to sites like Killingworth Lake and Rising Sun CP so it’s not exactly unfamiliar ground but I decided make the most of the time during April.
As urban local patchers know birding like this is relative and you take what you can get, seven Common Pochard and a Little Egret at Holywell Pond on the afternoon of April Fool’s Day and 18 Magpies and a Common Snipe in flight at Findus, Salter’s Lane were the highlights of a quiet start to the month. A week later I threw on my best black hoodie and slipped into Walker Park, camera in one hand and a can of LCL Pils in the other to blend in. All to catch up with some of Newcastle’s small but growing population of Ring-necked Parakeets that appear to have taken a liking to several of the city’s parks. Urban living seems to be catching up with some of them.
On a couple of evenings I slipped the five miles to the coast in the hope of catching up with one of several white-winged gulls that were appearing around the ever-fragrant fish quays at North Shields. I wasn’t disappointed as on my first visit a juvenile Iceland Gull loafed on the quay roof and was viewable from the streets overlooking the quay. A week later and it was the 2nd-winter that was enjoying some evening chill time by the river. Each visit was just an hour but along with the Iceland Gulls my high vantage enabled me to watch squadrons of iconic Kittiwakes commuting up and down the Tyne to and from their city breeding ledges at the worl’d furthest inland colony, always a privilege.
By mid-month with half the country apparently besieged by passage Ring Ouzels I looked around for some high ground and decided to head for Weetslade CP. One of many former pit heaps that litter Tyneside and South East Northumberland I’ve driven past this site literally a thousand times without ever visiting. It has good all round views and I imagine if anyone put any effort in they’d be rewarded with some occasional viz mig gems. Three Buzzards and a Grey Heron in the air were as good as it got during my hour but a smart Wheatear was a bonus.
Wheatears were as ever, a joy whenever and wherever i came across them, spunky attitude in abundance whether zipping across a bank of seaweed in search of insects or bouncing down a fence line adjacent to arable en route for wilder places. Knowing they could be spending the summer in Iceland or Greenland is always awe-inspiring.
Towards the month end Jack Bucknall found a female Ring Ouzel in horse paddocks between Backworth and Seghill, just 10 minutes from the NUFC Academy I headed out there that evening and failed to relocate it but did have 17 Fieldfares staging before heading out home. A chance to explore the large sloping grass covered hill towards Seghill drew me back the next night where I stumbled on the female Ring Ouzel still in the small paddock it had originally been seen in the previous day.
Away from the delights of Tyneside most of my birding time continued to be fairly local though I made one or two journeys elsewhere to the Harthope Valley, Skipwith Common, Yorkshire, Low Newton and Dipton Woods in the south-west. Some of these were walking days with my partner or (in the case of Skipwith) a little birding wrapped around one of Finn’s away games.
Harthope Valley was quiet bird-wise, a bit too early in this coldest of Aprils for much to have got started but on some of the sheltered slopes we found five Adders just emerging from hibernation and seeking some sunshine and warmth.
By the time we headed into the woods around Dipton they were hosting singing Pied Flycatchers and Common Redstarts. Distant drumming from Great Spotted Woodpeckers revealed their presence and after brief flight views the mobbing by multiple Blackbirds of a Tawny Owl drew our attention.
Gary Woodburn’s smart Red-throated Pipit was a a full fat county tick for me and many others who nipped up the coast to Low Newton, always distant and having already been turfed off one golf course that morning I managed zero usable images but I’m sure anyone reading this will have seen plenty to get the picture.
General day to day birding was pretty much all within 15km of home and provided enough newness and variation to keep things interesting as the month progressed. Highlights included relocating the wintering Spotted Redshank on the Wansbeck, self found Little Ringed Plover, Black-tailed Godwit and Whinchat. Species seen but found by others included Garganey, Shore Lark, Pectoral Sandpiper and Little Gull.
Unexpected bird of the month was this Emu wandering around a large sloped paddock near Abshiels, not a migrant but it brightened up another cold bird-less morning.