December 2022

Gone the heady days of autumn, the dregs of the year and darkest day awaits. I’m sure I’m not alone in dreading the season of sparkly lights and plastic blow-up lawn santas. Crisp cold spells however can produce some interesting bird movements…

Friday 2nd Suzanne and I decided to combine some walking with a browse around the best Rothbury has to offer in Christmas Shopping. We puffed and panted up onto Simonside from Lordenshaw and walked about half the length of the ridge before retracing our steps. A flock of 13 Meadow Pipits and a Stonechat still up there reflecting the mildness and 14 Red Grouse urged us back.

Monday 5th one of my regular post-work pre-school fleeting visits to Bothal Pond turned up a poorly looking 1st-winter Kittiwake a first record at this site for me. Seawatching at Newbiggin Point was productive on 6th with 9 Little Auks, 2 adult Whooper Swans, a drake Velvet Scoter and 13 Med Gulls. Later in the week four Northern Fulmars drifted around Spital cliffs and two Chiffchaffs including one showing some characteristics of an eastern individual were in the church paddock at Woodhorn.

With temperatures plummeting and most local water bodies frozen off I had a look at Linton Lane NR on 9th and managed to pick oou two 1st-winter Caspian Gulls on the ice.

I pottered down along the partially-frozen Wansbeck at Castle Island on 13th. A forlorn looking Little Egret amongst the gulls was the only ‘white-winger’ but a single Jack Snipe in with 30 Common Snipe, a decent 342 Eurasian Teal and the first Coot after a several-year absence offered up something to get excited about (relatively speaking). Further down below the weir on the estuary section it was clear that there were lots of passerines that had moved closer to the coast and the relative unfrozen areas there. A Grey Wagtail flew over, 40 Fieldfares dropped into Sea Buckthorn briefly before continuing south, 24 Magpies and 31 Crows fed on the pale orange berries in the same patches of scrub.

A late afternoon in the Longhirst Flash area on 15th produced a hunting Short-eared Owl despite several similar visits up until the end of the year it wasn’t seen again. I also counted 41 Magpies in the Abyssnia Wood roost which is the most I’ve had there to date. The slightly thawing fields by the 17th hosted some returning lapwings and a small 16-strong flock of Curlews that departed east at dusk.

And so to the Christmas week, a walk around Pegswood Moor CP on 21st produced a couple of Treecreeper in the Phase 1 woodland and Cormorant and Teal on Phase 2. Bothal Pond was unremarkable on 22nd but for 116 Lapwings back after the cold snap.

Three Russian White-fronted Geese were found at Woodhorn over Christmas which I managed to catch up with from the windmill gate on 27th. New Year’s Eve produced a decent count of 22 Pochard on Bothal Pond and a wander south of the Wansbeck ended the year with the wintering Whimbrel and 2 Black-tailed Godwits in Charlton’s Fields.

November 2022

November rocked. That’s it, that’s the vibe.

Sixteen days in the field helped ward off those early winter blues, some interesting weather ensured that there was always something to lift the spirits locally.

As I walked along the narrow grass strip between the horse paddocks and ash lagoon fence on 1st almost the first bird I had was a Woodcock hurtling inland at head height. Small parties of Redwing, Fieldfare and Blackbird arrived throughout the morning, most either pitching into the scrub or over into the ash lagoons. It felt like there should be more but adult Med Gull and Siskin were the only other ‘unusuals’ that morning. Later at Spital Point adult and 1st-winter Little Gulls moved south as I counted a straight 50 Med Gulls in the low tide roost there.

On 3rd four Little Gulls, 19 Med Gulls and 10 Skylarks moved past Newbiggin though a head-lifting distant large diver with an obvious pale bill (albeit in bright sun) frustratingly eluded specific identifiction. A Treecreeper was at Woodhorn Church and the Linton Hooded Crow said hello as I passed by heading home.

Duck counts at Bothal on the afternoon of 4th yielded 185 Teal and 121 Wigeon, nearby 10 Meadow PIpits, four Kestrels and a Jay were in the Longhirst Flash area. Late afernoon on 6th I wandered north to Tritlington and stumbled on a Jackdaw roost of c 800 individuals.

The sea-watch highlight on 8th came in the form of an adult Glaucous Gull heading out to sea off Newbiggin. The same individual was seen again the following morning on the same track south-east. I chanced a Barn Owl along the Morpeth Northern Bypass later that evening.

In unseasonably mild conditions on 9th the Little Egret was again feeding in shore pools at Beacon Point and four Snow Buntings were on the rocks there. It was almost spring-like with 8 Pied Wagtails and 4 Rock Pipits feeding on a late sandfly (?) hatching. The Little Egret was again present during a quiet seawatch on 10th. A visit later that day to my parents in Blyth produced an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull on the shed roof at the South Harbour and another two adults at Blagdon Lane Pools on the journey home.

Saturday 12th I headed up to Widdrington Moor Lake and had decent albeit distant scope views of one of the ringtail Hen Harriers that were hanging about mid-month as well as a Marsh Harrier and a brilliant pre-roost of over 1,000 Common Gulls. It’s such a shame that this increasingly good site is to become a holiday/caravan park, It’ll be ‘interesting’ to see how that development impacts though I’m guessing that there won’t be much to positively write about.

Back to Newbiggin on 14th, seawatching produced a single Little Auk and five Little Gulls but the highlight was a juvenile Peregrine drifting in from Church Point and dropping onto the rocks at Newbiggin Point briefly and causing a fair bit of panic in the process. Another Little Auk, a single Little Gull and four unseasonal Puffins came from a seawatch on the 16th but I was over the moon later that day to find my first Caspian Gull at Castle Island. A really smart looking colour-ringed 1st-winter of German Baltic Sea origin.

Newbiggin again on 19th and the Little Auks kept coming with three that morning, the other highlight being two Dark-bellied Brent Geese moving south. Heading home I chanced upon some of the Ellington Landfill gull posse trying to shelter from the chilly easterly in one of the wind farm fields. Parked up by the side of the road using the car as a hide I picked out two Caspian Gulls another 1st-winter and an adult. Three in week here is just incredible, 2022 has been a great year for the species in Northumberland with observers like Daniel Langston and Alan Curry turning up mulitiple birds at coastal locations that are really rewriting the species status here.

Noting that Eric B had found a Pallas’s Warbler at the Mound I headed back to Newbiggin and after a fair old wander about managed to relocate it on the edge of one of the southerly plantations where it showed well albeit briefly.

Seven Little Auks on the seawatch on 21st along with two Long-tailed Ducks and 27 Red-throated Divers made for an interesting couple of hours. I sopped at Linton Lane NR on the way home and picked up the adult Red-throated Diver that had been found over the weekend and also a Willow Tit. Seawatching with company the following morning produced 11 Little Auks though none offered views like the one Andy McLevy and I stumbled upon at Castle Island later that morning.

The end of the month was fairly quiet, the Hooded Crow picked up again along the Potland Burn on 28th though it did produce a patch tick in the form of an Egyptian Goose flying north over Newbiggin. Found the previous day I wasn’t quick enough off the mark and it had flown from the field north of Woodhorn before I arrived, a forlorn search of the various pools to the south turned up a blank. The following morning I was heading back to the car from the Mound when a goose came north over East Lea, I lifted my bins to two big white wing fore-wing patches and managed to completely fluff the camera in a mad rush to try and grab a record shot (see below).

October 2022

I skirted around a few sites in my 10km loop to the east and north on 4th. Bothal Pond held a single 1st-winter Greater Scaup and 77 Pink-feet flew south. The ringed adult Hooded Crow was around Ellington Wind Farm again whilst 200 Pink-feet were in fields at North Linton Farm. One of the adult Red-necked Grebes was visible on Widdrington Moor Lake as was a Slavonian Grebe; three Marsh Harriers were in attendance and a decent count of 144 Great Black-backed Gulls noted. Druridge Pools was quiet, just 33 Curlews of note, further south two Avocet at Cresswell Pond may have been my last of 2022.

Another Marsh Harrier was at Linton Lane on 7th along with 36 Gadwall and two Lesser Black-backed Gulls. At Newbiggin I was watching a drake Greater Scaup on the sea off Beacon Point when a Snow Bunting appeared feeding on the path a few metres away. Another visit to Linton Lane on 10th produced 127 Eurasian Teal and 470 Pink-feet either over or dropping into nearby fields.

I searched unsuccessfully for the Wansbeck Great Egret on 11th, 10 Little Egrets were all I could find though the big beast may have been hiding on the north shore as I passed nearby. I ventured on to Spital Point and re-found the drake Greater Scaup consorting with Eiders on the sea below the cliffs. Two Chiffchaffs were all i could pish out the car park.

On 14th S and I decided to walk from Howick to Craster and have some lunch overlooking the sea. We had an adult Mediterranean Gull fly over the coast path just beyond the bathing hoose and S spotted a Brambling by the gate just south of Craster. Inflation has hit the Crab sandwich in a big way (a tenner!) but it’s the food of kings and a rare treat, especially when you can’t get any cake from Howick.

Kid-free later that evening I slipped across the Moor to check out Alan Priest’s Grey Phalarope larking about in the coal dust-filled surf at Beacon Point. Probably the best views I’ve had of the species since one at Big Waters way back in the mists of time.

Twenty five Med Gulls flying inland and an adult Lesser Black-backed Gull as well as a Brambling were the highlights of a short viz-mig session from the Church stile at Woodhorn on 17th. Later in the day it was obvious there was some inland Stonechat movement as seven were found at Longhirst Flash.

Thirty three southbound Whooper Swans and an adult Yellow-legged Gull on the Beacon were the rewards for three hours around the Moor on 18th. Two Willow Tits on the ash lagoon bank and the Little Egret fishing the rock pools got the runners-up prize on the day.

Nearly three hours seawatching from Beacon Point on 19th was productive, two Pomarine Skuas and two Arctic Skuas, seven Velvet Scoter and a single Sooty Shearwater as well as a handful of Little Gulls kept me occupied. The Grey Phalarope had slipped into the south bay and was hanging out with Redshanks: 15 Purple Sandpipers roosted on the breakwater nearby. Out on the Moor a Short-eared Owl fresh in was being hassled by Crows as it twisted west.

Another 90 mins this time from the church bench on 20th produced a smashing intermediate morph juvenile Long-tailed Skua that came straight in towards me before veering north. 14 Little Gulls, another Velvet Scoter, the Little Egret flew north and two Little Auks smashed past close in.

21st and a change of scenery as I nipped up to embleton to hob-nob it with Stringer. Of course he managed to grip me by finding a Woodlark on Newton Pool which flew off (after he got pics) never to be seen again. In patches of heavy rain we dug out a Spotted Flycatcher from the garden, a Ruddy Shelduck across the fields with the goose flock and when he nipped home to make lunch for his Mrs I snuck down the tin church track and tumbled a Red-breasted Flycatcher out the willows. It was an uncooperative little fecker, hence the ‘record shot’ image (who am I kidding).

A female-type Long-tailed Duck in the gloom of the south bay on the evening of 27th along with a calling Water Rail at Woodhorn Flash were destined to be the low key end to October until Clive Saunders found two Swift sp at Amble on the morning of 30th. With a national influx of Pallid Swifts ongoing I took the 10 mile drive up for what would be a long overdue county tick. Ipin and Janet beat me there and were watching the swifts over the town, already happy one was a nailed-on Pallid. I wandered into the estate streets they were feeding over to get better views and over the next hour had them pinging about overhead almost constantly. Images and views from several observers onsite solidified the ID for me, much to my delight.

August/September 2022

Early August took me and two of the offspring out of the UK on a grand low carbon train adventure through Brussels, Hamburg, Copenhagen, Stockholm and Uppsala before retracing our steps back via Berlin. Ostensibly a family holiday and opportunity to acquaint my twin teens with independent travel by rail at the same time as visiting several European capitals that were new for us.

Whilst not a ‘birding trip’ I’m always birding, I’m normally a bit city-averse but I stuck the Leicas in my rucksack and just kept my eyes open from the train and whilst we did all the tourist-stuff. My trip list was nothing to write home about but i have some snapshot avian highlights committed to memory.

A lone Great Crested Grebe on the Binnenalster, Hamburg, oblivious to the Gay Pride celebrations surrounding it. Watching over 100 Common Swifts at eye level hawking at dusk from a balcony overlooking the Amagerbro district of Copenhagen and discovering an adult Red-necked Grebe on a local park pond nearby. A Sparrowhawk calling loudly in flight over big cannabis bushes in the Free Christiana commune (again Copenhagen).

Stockholm’s Baltic Gulls and feral Barnacle Geese the backdrop for a trip down memory lane in the Abba Museum. White Storks, Common Cranes, many Red Kites, single Osprey and Marsh Harrier and two early morning silhoutted divers on a mist-covered Swedish lake that were probably Black-throated all among the snatched moments imprinted on memory from the hours spent moving between destinations on the trains.

Packing a month’s work into the final two weeks meant that it was the 25th before I was next in the field back in the UK. A leisurely 1.5 hour seawatch that afternoon produced Arctic Skua, Roseate Tern and 31 Med Gulls as well as an obvious southbound passage of Shag. Four days later I finally caught up with a Cory’s Shearwater at Newbiggin as another individual was tracked up the coast and lingered distantly in a feeding flock a couple of km offshore. Hassled by two Arctic Skuas it was repeatedly forced into short flights that afforded scopable viewing opportunities.

September started well with a Wood Sandpiper at Bothal Pond, followed by decent counts of Black-tailed Godwit (52) and Little Egrets (11) at Castle Island on 2nd. An hour’s seawatch on the afternoon of 3rd afforded splendid views of a pale morph juvenile Long-tailed Skua skipping north at Newbiggin; seven Arctic Skuas and a Roseate Tern in the same hour plus a lone Northern Wheatear briefly in the churchyard.

Later on 3rd Bothal Pond had a mini-wader influx with Ruff and two Greenshanks joining the Wood Sandpiper. Back at Newbiggin in the evening I counted 150 Sanderling towards Beacon Point and scored another Northern Wheatear. Along the ash lagoon banks singles of Spotted Flycatcher and Pied Flycatcher and a Common Swift were all notable.

Ruff at Bothal Pond

Two juvenile Curlew Sandpipers fed amongst 54 Dunlin at Castle Island on 4th, a small part of a good autumn passage for the species, locally and nationally. The ash lagoon banks held several common migrants that afternoon including 2 Pied Flycatchers, Lesser Whitethroat, Garden Warbler and two Whinchats.

At Beacon Point on 7th four adult Roseate Terns in the roost, the following morning same site added another juvenile Curlew Sandpiper and a Whimbrel as well as my first couple of southbound Pale-bellied Brent Geese of the Autumn. I also nipped up the road to Cresswell Pond for the Great Egret just before the heavy rain early afternoon.

Curlew Sandpiper (juvenile)

A couple of visits to Woodhorn Church/Pool between 10th and 12th produced three each of Spotted and Pied Flycatchers, 2 Common Redstarts and a Garden Warbler but the highlight by far was a huge passage of c 1,100 per hour of Swallows and House Martins moving south over Woodhorn on 12th. This movement was sustained over a couple of hours and included five Common Swifts.

Pied Flycatcher, Woodhorn Church

A break away on the Angus coast between 13th and 15th was a refreshing change. Always birding there was a trickle of sightings such as Curlew Sandpiper, Osprey, Whooper Swan, three Little Egrets and Peregrine in the Montrose Basin area and a nice Red-necked Grebe off St Cyrus along with hods of Red-throated Divers.

Back at Newbiggin on 19th a four-hour seawatch produced 13 Arctic Skuas, single Velvet Scoter and Sooty Shearwater plus a deceent duck day with 600+ noted including a Pintail. Arrivals on 21st added Yellow-browed Warbler for the year at Newbiggin, another Pintail offshore and a pulse of 230 Pink-feet over south.

Two days later on 23rd I found a juvenile Pectoral Sandpiper at Bothal Pond, only lingering briefly before being flushed by an arrival of big gulls. The final week was quiet, several Sparrowhawks during journeys whilst ferrying the kids about and a half dozen House Martins still about Bothal Pond on 28th.

Pectoral Sandpiper (juvenile), Bothal Pond

June/July 2022

The first half of June was exceptionally quiet for me on the birding front, a couple of Newbiggin seawatches that produced two Arctic Skuas on 7th and then a summer-plumaged Black Guillemot on the sea on 14th was as good as it got. The latter was the first I’ve had on the sea here and only my third ever at Newbiggin, though the second June record.

A 1st-summer drake Goldeneye at Castle Island on 17th and a good count of 73 Gadwall. Finn’s football training at new club Wallsend Boys Club produced 10 flyover calling Ring-necked Parakeets – to be expected I guess as the local parks south of the Coast Road seem to be the favoured area of the species.

Castle Island again on 23rd threw up a female Ruddy Shelduck, a single Little Egret and a colour-ringed Cormorant. Five Mediterranean Gulls in Newbiggin’s South Bay were a sign summer was here the same day as were Tufted Duck and Pochard broods locally. Another Med Gull (first-summer) was at Bothal Pond on 27th.

Common Sandpiper (one of several during return summer passage)

July kicked off with single Pochard and Shoveler broods at a nearby nature reserve. Castlke Island’s Ruddy Shelduck was still around on 11th as was a Kingfisher. By 20th I counted 105 Mediterranean Gulls at Newbiggin including 17 juveniles. Later that day seven Roseate Terns, a Little Gull, 55 returning Sanderling and 4 Knot were in the Beacon Point area. 12 Whimbrel south at Newbiggin Point along with a Great Skua were the highlight of another sea-watch on 23rd. Over at Castle Island Pintail, Spotted Redshank and up to 11 Little Egrets were in situ. Two juvenile Med Gulls at Bothal Pond were my first juveniles at the site ever!

A final sea-watch at Newbiggin on 28th offered nothing more than a single Whimbrel and two Arctic Skuas.

April/May 2022

April kicked off on the beach at Newbiggin with a couple of Black Redstarts on the old war defences just north of the point. Further up the beach five littoralis Rock Pipits on the wrack on south side of Beacon Point and a count of 106 Sanderling on the beach.

Highlights over the next few days included a Long-eared Owl leaving one of the local roosts at dusk, 2 Garganey at Bothal Pond and a jammy Common Crane in flight at Bomarsund as Finn and I passed heading home from an away game. On 7th news of a northbound Osprey at the coast sent me to Pegswood Pit Top and fortuitously managing to get very distant views as it passed over Newbiggin mobbed by corvids. Two juvenile Crossbills at the pit top were a bonus.

Several hours in the field 7th-9th produced nothing of note other than a first willow Warbler of the year at Woodhorn Flashes. On 11th five Wheatears and a White Wagtail on Newbiggin Moor were at least some reward for a couple of hours. A sea-watch at Newbiggin Point (NP) on 12th produced the first Sandwich Terns with 49 passing in two hours. Other new birds that day included Blackcap along the Wansbeck and all three hirundine species at Bothal Pond.

Early morning 13th a Long-eared Owl was a nice find at Newbiggin Moor. On 14th a drake Ring-necked Duck at Widdrington Moor Lake found by Tim Dean had me head north, both Smew and Red-necked Grebe also still hanging about there. I nipped across to Druridge Pools afterward and picked up Spoonbill and Ruff. A Little Ringed Plover at Castle Island brought the first half off April to a close.

I biked out to the coast on 27th adding Lesser Whitethroat and Sedge Warbler to #localbigyear list and caught up with the drake American Wigeon that had been present for some days. Four Whimbrel at Druridge Pools and a Common Whithroat at Ulgham Lane on the return journey added to a good day for new year birds.

May began with a day trip up to Clennel with Suzanne for a good long walk up the valley, Whinchats were in evidence and a distant Ring Ouzel was noted on one of the slopes. A juvenile Dipper was already fledged on one of the small streams.

Whinchat, Clennel Valley, May 2022

I had a good wander around various sites at Newbiggin on 4th picking up Arctic Tern, 2 Grasshopper Warblers and a Garden Warbler whilst back at Bothal Pond a Common Tern was present. Early morning visits to one of the Breeding wader Survey sites produced four flyover Mandarin on 8th.

A Little Ringed Plover in suitable breeding habitat within 10km of home was a pleasant find on 11th as was a Curlew at a possible lowland breeding site. Out on the bike to Beacon Hill on 12th produced singing male Common Redstart, two Yellow Wagtails in cereal and seven singing Common Whitethroats. A Tawny Owl flushed from the roadside at Abshiels and a Tree Pipit was singing at Beacon Hill. Later that evening a Long-eared Owl was hunting an old paddock north of Morpeth.

Tree Pipit, Beacon Hill

On 14th the second Breeding wader site produced no waders but Common Redstart, Garden Warbler and several Sedge Warblers made the early morning worthwhile.

Singing male Sedge Warbler

23rd found me successfully twitching Alan Priest’s Common Quail calling from the Ash Lagoon banks, a full-fat Newbiggin tick and one I was pleased to get before the tinnitus takes both ears. 45 Ringed Plovers on the blast beach were likely ‘tundrae‘ race.

24th was spent in the extreme north of the 10km at Druridge Pools, a single Wood Sandpiper and three 1st-summer Little Gulls the highlights. On 26th a reeling Grasshopper Warbler at the west end of Pegswood Community Park, a regular site in Spring now. The month ended with another Newbiggin sea-watch, though little of note, 95 Common Scoter, 71 Manx Shearwaters and 9 Red-throated Divers in a three hour period.


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.

January 2022

Fresh start, clean slate, new lists, optimism, despite working for my 13th consecutive New Year’s Day, all of the aforementioned are bouncing around my head from the moment dawn breaks. There’s never much actual birding on 1st for me, whatever scraps I happen to notice during periodic glances out the office window and the last hour of light once the work is done for the day. This year’s New Year’s Day highlight was a Scaup at Bothal Pond in the heady rush of late afternoon cold air.

At Longhirst as the dawn broke the following morning, my breath hanging in the air and fogging up the bins as a Short-eared Owl quartered in the distance, 39 Fieldfares on the ground and a covey of Grey Partridges cackling at me as they glided over the field hedges to put safe distance between us.

Later that afternoon Ella and I cycled to Bothal Pond on news of the returning Spotted Redshank for a ‘low carbon’ kickstart to the year and a distant grainy image.

Distant, dodgy image of the Spotshank c300m away

A January seawatch on the morning of 5th was typical for the time of year, 2 Pale-bellied Brent Geese moving north, 3 adult Gannets, 3 Mediterranean Gulls and a single Purple Sandpiper the best of it. Further up the beach AP had found a Water Pipit hanging about just south of Beacon Point, it was mobile but afforded decent views and an opportunity to catch up with one or two locals.

Home via Castle Island added Little Egret and the wintering juvenile Spoonbill to the new year list.

A day later (6th) I picked off another two of the hangers-on in my 10km area, the Hawfinch at Abbey Mills and for the second year a wintering Whimbrel in the damp field west of Boca Chica, Cambois. Judging by the map of UK wintering Whimbrel (see below) this year between 1 Jan and 18 Feb this might be the most northerly individual in the UK and the only bird on the East Coast.

UK Wintering Whimbrel Jan-Feb 2022 (courtesy BirdGuides)

The River Wansbeck has a long wooded stretch between Morpeth and Bothal and is never overly busy on winter weekdays. Walking the full section on the 7th with Bubo for company produced an expected bag of birds, Dipper, Grey Wagtail and two drake Goosanders on the river and clinging on in the woodland a Marsh Tit. Probably the most unexpected species was a Eurasian Wigeon on the river, not a bird I associate with this kind of riparian habitat.

Later on 7th I headed up to Widdrington Moor Lake and returned via Ellington Wind Farm, Slavonian Grebe and Marsh Harrier the highlights at WML and the wintering Hooded Crow on show at the wind farm.

The rest of the month was quiet local birding all withink 10km of home, in part driven by my daughter isolating with Covid, though I doubt I’d have gone much further even if free to do so. A Kingfisher from a cycle around Morpeth, a decent flock of 27 Meadow Pipits in the Longhirst Flash area and a Peregrine at Castle Island kept things ticking over. The Spotted Redshank was sporadically at Bothal, a Mediterranean Gull during a walk in the Woodhorn Church area on 28th and a couple of small Pied Wagtail groups in two areas away from the coast.

December 2021

Evening has fallen
The swans are singing
The last of Sundays bells is ringing
The wind in the trees is sighing
And old england is dying

Possibly the month I like least in any year, too much to do, not enough daylight to do it in, too many competing needs from too many people and too much darkness (metaphorically and literally).

An afternoon around several local sites on the 1st threw up little of note, around 1,000 Pink-feet in the Longhirst Flash area, an adult Mediterranean Gull on the shallow water of the Hospital Pool at Woodhorn and 5 Fieldfares in the Bothal Pond paddocks as much as I could squeeze from the gloom.

Scruffy Fieldfare

The following day a single Willow Tit was around the garden and joined by a male Siskin as well as a snow white male Pheasant, one of several releases in the fields to the north provided the only white stuff in the month.

Fast forward to 7th and I was pleased to find a 1st-winter male Black Redstart at the mouth of the Wansbeck Estuary, then, further upriver, a Spotted Redshank at Castle Island, presumably the same individual that wintered between here and Bothal Pond in 2020 returning. Scaup and Spoonbill were also present at Castle Island, the latter around for some days prior but the first ever December record for Northumberland I believe.

A Pale-bellied Brent Goose on the field west of Woodhorn Church Pool on 8th was the bird of the day. The following day a walk around Far Letch NR offered a flock of 40+ Yellowhammers and a third Grey Partridge covey in as many days (10, 10 and 8) locally. Friday 10th I made a brief visit to Widdrington Moor Lake and saw the returning redhead Smew, Red-necked Grebe and Great Northern Diver.

The Spoonbill remained at Castle Island throughout December and was there on 13th when i counted 263 Teal on the now tidal river following the NCC/Environment Agency decision to attempt to de-silt the river by opening the weir throughout the 2021/22 winter. I can’t see the plan working but it has demonstrated the habitat lost as a result of the weir installation. By 27th the Teal numbered 602 and 213 Mallard were also present.

Treecreeper and 5 Lesser Redpolls were garden highlights on 15th, the former one of only 5 garden records to date, most since the trees have matured. Two days later another Treecreeper surprised me as it was high up in Harwood Forest with a big mixed tit/crest flock. Mild winter weather resulting in many more birds in that area than I would have typically expected on a mid-December day. Other species that day included 2 Stonechats, 50 Chaffinches and 11 Crossbills including a couple of singing birds.

The Spotted Redshank appeared at Bothal Pond on 20th and a Short-eared Owl was near Abyssinian Pond later that day.

Tuesday 21st brought the bird of the month in the form of a drake Surf Scoter off Cambois. Tracked from Whitburn past St Mary’s Island then lost, it was a good relocation by Steve Taylor off the Cambois outfall pipe.

Post-Christmas was even quieter with 13 Gadwall on the Wansbeck Estuary, a Merlin doing it’s thing atop a hedge by Ellington Wind Farm and a 1st-winter Mediterranean Gull in the regular paddocks at Blue Sky Stables, Linton.

Med Gull (adult from QEII Country Park)

A final visit to Bothal Pond on New Year’s Eve ably demonstrated that any year-long birding list is a full year long when a chocolate brown Marsh Harrier spent several minutes over the west end scaring the living daylights out of the assembled ranks of Teal to become the 133rd bird species I saw in 2021 within a 5km circle from home.