Late winter/early Spring can be a fascinating period in the right weather. Writing this 3 months later so the post is just a repository for some of the better sightings in the period.

February – A Barn Owl in darkness on 2nd at St Leonard’s, Morpeth was the only bird of note in the first week. The wintering Spotted Redshank was again at Bothal Pond on 7th as were 11 Golden Plovers – a sign of early movement away from the coast.

A short trip to East Chevington on 7th produced two Russian White-fronted Geese which were pleasing as they’ve been scarce on the ground this winter up here.

On the return along the coast 18 Twite fed in the dunes at Cresswell and five Med Gulls were at Woodhorn Flashes. I noted 225 Pink-feet flying north over the allotment in Blyth later in the day.

A short trip to some damp fields adjacent to a sizeable chunk of mixed woodland on 8th produced the desired target when a Woodock flew out to the fields to feed at dusk. Another of the same species was noted in daylight during a visit to Low Barns NR, Durham the following day along with a Willow Tit.

The Hooded Crow was still in fields at Ellington Wind Farm on 11th. A Saturday morning visit to Killingworth Lake the next morning whilst the kid trained nearby to see the 1st-winter drake Greater Scaup that had been wintering. A count of 32 Common Pochard there was impressive by recent county standards for this species.

15th brought an influx of Shelduck into Druridge Bay with over 40 counted across a number of locations, a harbinger of Spring. Several sizeable Curlew flocks fed in coastal fields too.

On 18th I jammed into the Longhirst Flash Green Sandpiper providing another new bird for the year and the following day a Little Egret was at Bothal Pond, making it’s way onto my 5km Year List for it’s troubles. A couple of Ringed Plovers on Cooper’s Kennel Flash on 25th another indication that warm April days were just around the corner (that worked out right?).

Short-eared Owl again at Longhirst Flashes on 25th and a first slate grey adult Lesser Black-backed Gull brightened up the Blyth Estuary on 26th. February had time for one more splash of year newness in the form of a drake Velvet Scoter north past Newbiggin Point on 28th.

March – Kicked into Spring with a mid-morning jaunt to the Gibbet and whilst it was a slow morning did manage two Goshawk though no display. Nice to see one or two old faces up there and pick off a couple of Crossbills on the slow drive back along the southern edge.

Bird of the month came on 5th, I woke and picked up my phone to a message dropping in that John Graham had found a Dipper on the stream at Woodhorn Church. Those of us that birded occasionally with the late Jimmy Steele will know that he had long predicted that “There’ll be a Dipper on that stream one day” – the first known record in the Newbiggin recording area had me leaping out of bed like a salmon, bundling bins into the car and shooting through thankfully empty roads to rock up in the car park, peer nervously down the stream and see the brown and white wee beastie in all it’s dippery magnificience before it shot through the pipe under the road. Two or three brief views later it had swerved around a bend upstream and was never seen again!

Two days later a Water Rail called from one of the reedbeds at Woodhorn as I walked past and at least nine Med Gulls were in the Storey Crescent horse paddocks. Great Crested Grebes were back on Bothal Pond by 7th and 11 Avocets were staging at the Blyth Estuary on 8th. A Chiffchaff dashed around mallows behind the Budge Screen on 11th but remained stubbornly silent despite having sang earlier in the day for the county recorder. A Barnacle Goose put in a brief appearance at Cooper’s Kennel on 12th. Little Egret, Short-eared Owl and 110 Fieldfares were highlights at nearby Longhirst Flashes the same day.

By 16th a Chiffchaff was singing in the wood by the garden and a White Wagtail was at Bothal Pond.

Despite lots of effort in the second half of the month there was little reward, a few more Chiffs including one singing in the Harthope Valley on 27th, a female Great Spotted Woodpecker at Woodhorn and two Mandarin that I mini-twitched at Mitford were the highlights.

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