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.

February/March

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.

Whimbrel
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.

November 2021

November is not the month to put your feet up and relax, whilst the onset of darker nights makes it more difficult to squeeze in birding opportunities it’s most definitely worth making the effort.

Newbiggin on a bright shiny Monday morning on the first day of a bright shiny new month found me full of optimism. After a couple of hours around the Mound and Ash Lagoons with a Treecreeper as the highlight and not a sniff of any real migrants aside from some light Skylark movement south my optimism levels were a little lower.

A BirdGuides ‘ping’ rescued a quiet morning with news of a Wilson’s Phalarope at Newham Flash some 55km to the north, a species I’ve not seen in Northumberland previously. Within the hour I slid the car behind two others just before the bend and drop down the small hill to Newham and was watching a frantically spinning phalarope on this small farm pond. In the event it remained in place for several days and performed very well.

On 2nd a female Mandarin was a nice surprise at Bothal Pond and was the 131st species seen within a 5km circle of home in 2021. Gadwall numbers reached 57 there that same day. The following day whilst sheltering from a particularly heavy shower 33 Whooper Swans flew south over Newbiggin’s south bay, 10 Mediterranean Gulls were scattered around the beach and a single Red-throated Diver slipped quietly into the waters of the sheltered bay.

Recent years and mild winters have seen Stonechats increasingly winter away from the coast in suitable habitat. Two at Longhirst Flash and a third beside a hedge at West Chevington Hill on 3rd will no doubt be about as long as the weather stays mild. Time in the field on 3rd ended with two Little Gulls and 11 Mediterranean Gulls feeding in the high tide surf melee at Snab Point.

A five hour seawatch from Newbiggin Point didn’t produce any fireworks on 5th but 5 Great Northern Divers, 3 Velvet Scoters, 4 Little Gulls and 5 Puffins over the period ensured there was always something of interest. 14 Siskins moving north were a small part of a much larger movement along the East Coast over this period. The suspicion is that these birds make a short sea crossing from Netherlands/Belgium then track back north to winter in the northern forests.

Early into the second week of the month I spent some time in the scrubby horse paddocks and hedges inland of Lynemouth Power Station, a single Willow Tit was the highlight. 41 Mediterranean Gulls roosted on rocks just north of Spital Point that morning. Later in the day Barn Owls were noted at Cresswell Pond and along the Morpeth Northern Bypass.

Argentatus Herring Gulls of various shades were prominent in the month and included a 1st-winter pale varient with milky way brown primaries with white tips and a white-headed individual with incredibly pale greater coverts and tertials.

Leading a guided walk along the Wansbeck on 11th produced a single Greater Scaup, 3 Little Egrets, a Black-tailed Godwit and a Kingfisher as well as reasonable views of three cavorting Otters.

I headed to Cambois on 16th, highlights included 5 Whooper Swans south along the beach, a Woodcock arriving in off the sea and a male Blackcap in the beachside plantations. On 19th a Great Northern Diver was to the southof Spital Point and a single Little Auk, 3 Puffins and a distant but obvious biscuit-coloured juvenile Glaucous Gull were noted from Beacon Point; the latter in a swarm of large gulls around an active fishing boat.

Distant Winter Puffin
Company during a Seawatch.

Walking with the dog (Bubo) features in my daily routine and offers hyper-local birding opportunities, a Fieldfare was feeding in arable two fields north of the house on 24th and later that same day a Marsh Harrier flew west over West Stobswood Pools whilst i perused a Pink-foot flock. Widdrington Moor Lake is developing into a fine site and a visit on 24th produced Red-necked Grebe, Great Northern Diver, Slavonian Grebe and a Little Egret. Chibburn Links added another Great Northern Diver and three more Puffins for the month both species having an exceptional November locally.

Slavonian Grebe

On 28th I was keen to try out a newly acquired scope so dropped down to Newbiggin Point for a brief seawatch in the morning, a single Red-necked Grebe was the highlight, 2 more Puffins , 4 Mediterranean Gulls and a couple of Gannets the also-rans. Back the following day for a Velvet Scoter/Long-tailed Duck combo with another 8 Puffins noted. The Linton Hooded Crow back for another winter ended the month on 29th.

October 2021

It was easy to tell it was October as the grumbling of many birders became louder as days of west/south-west winds offered little quality (at least on the mainland). Despite the apparent poor state of affairs I’m not going to complain, I continue to do most of my birding within a few clicks of the front door and take what comes.

The first few days of the month must have been busy as the first bird I recorded was a garden Chiffchaff six days into the month. A visit to Widdrington Moor Lake on 7th produced 4 Marsh Harriers (1 male and 3 cream-crowned individuals) causing mayhem on the north side. Later that morning whilst failing to catch up with Mark Eaton’s fabulous drake Surf Scoter at Birling Carrs over 330 Pink-footed Geese I noted in skeins up to 100 strong, their approaching calls drifting on the wind as they ‘winked’ their way south.

Having spent the next night in Sedgefield I had a short early morning walk at nearby Hurworth Burn Reservoir and discovered that there was a feral goose conference in progress with some 1200 Greylags, 200 Canada Geese and 100 wild Pink-feet just for good measure, frightening!

Another Great Shearwater was noted moving north at Whitburn on the morning of 12th around 08:25. With the school run to do I opted for a safe option of going to Snab Point where I could literally fall out the car and avoid the ignomony of arriving puffing and panting at Newbiggin to be told “You’ve missed it by three minutes” which has happened before. As it happens this particular individual was apparently in no particular hurry and ambled past Snab at mid-distance at 11:12. An uneventful post-shearwater romp around the Moor at Newbiggin through up a Willow Tit (two more were in my garden the following day).

A brief post-work snatched visit to Bothal Pond on 18th produced a count of 45 Gadwall. The following morning two Mediterranean Gulls (adult and 1st-winter) were in the paddocks at Blue Sky Stables. Another adult was offshore at Newbiggin where a Ring Ouzel was the highlight of an otherwise quiet circuit. Several Bramblings were also in evidence including one sat on the rocks off the beach looking, well, knackered.

Brambling post-migration

Another short visit to Bothal Pond on 21st through up a good candidate for monedula race Jackdaw in the horse paddocks. Recent years have highlighted that some British race spermologus clearly can and do show collars after wear but by mid-October Jackdaws should be in fairly freshly moulted plumage as they moult end June to September and so in theory should not be worn, add to that the fairly extensive collar on this one and it may well have been a migrant. Not seen since.

Two hours seawatching on 22nd yielded a decent return, a White-billed Diver flew north, two Great Northern Divers moved past, six Whooper Swans flew south plus a single Little Gull and two Mediterranean Gulls were seen.

Med Gull grifting the car park

Again over night in Sedgefield on 23rd I headed back home the following day via Hartlepool Headland where I caught up with the Arctic Warbler that was on a bit of an extended stay in the square in front of the council offices. This mini-twitch was only slightly marred by the woman loudly and frequently asking “Bob” if he could see the bird, I left uncertain as to whether Bob was hard of hearing (like myself) or just blissfully unaware of the loud repetitive calls to his rear as he gazed at the magnificience of the phyllosc in the squircle and contemplated it’s journey that had reached it’s presumed end in Hartlepool.

August/September 2021

A period that saw my youngest start his sixth full season at the NUFC Academy and a post-covid resumption of full training schedule and games programme. Inevitably when combined with work and life birding once again became a little sporadic over the late summer/early Autumn.

A short trip to Aberlady Bay with the kids early in August was relaxing with (too much) good food. Odd moments of snatched birding produced a few Little Egrets and a reeling Grasshopper Warbler. Enjoyment came from warm evening walks filled with House Martins and Wall butterflies, the latter apparently on the increase along the East Lothian coast I later read. Lazy afternoons found us on the North Berwick beaches and rock pools with the odd Gannet and Shag passing the Bass Rock vista as we explored.

It was 20 days into August before I managed some sea-watching though a juvenile Long-tailed Skua south off Newbiggin Point went some way to compensate for the lack of activity in previous days. An adult Little Gull and a northbound Sooty Shearwater added further interest. Later that day Castle Island produced a decent count of 19 Little Egrets my highest ever count in Northumberland (others have had larger counts at Lindisfarne NNR), two Red Knot and six Ruff were the pick of the waders and two Mediterranean Gulls, always welcome here as relief from the 120 strong Great Black-backed Gull flock.

Back to Newbiggin on 26th a Black Tern and 10 Sooty Shearwaters were the best from three hours of gazing east. Another two and half hours on 2nd September produced a single Balearic Shearwater and two Sooty Shearwaters.

On 5th I travelled to an away game for the kid at Burnley so I used the journey to drop in to Swinsty Reservoir, North Yorkshire and Foulridge Reservoir, Lancashire during the journey down. Two Red Kites at the former and a single Ruff at the latter was scant reward for the effort.

Sunday 12th I took my daughter and a friend to Amble for the afternoon, I left the girls to enjoy some shopping and ice cream and had a short wander along the Coquet Estuary. Scanning through the regular low tide gull roost I managed to pick out Amble’s regular adult yellow-ringed (PKCS) Caspian Gull whilst further up river a colour-ringed Common Gull was above the weir. This individual turned out to be from Loppa, Finnmark, the first recovery of 88 ringed indivduals from that site. Seven years old this individual had managed a cool 2000km post-breeding journey to the Coquet, pretty impressive in my book.

Mid-September saw me off on a trip with my partner in a VW campervan around the Scottish coast loosely following the NC500 route. Not ostensibly a birding trip I did my best to pick out any quality from stops along the way. A 2nd-winter Iceland Gull on the river at Thurso was probably as good as it got (I toyed with thoughts of Kumlien’s Gull but the lack of tail band, at least some dark inner primaries and the shade of the emerging mantle all point to glaucoides to me) though an early morning Merlin making a low pass at the local Linnet flock at Murkle in the crisp northern air livened up the morning coffee and several Black-throated Divers still in summer plumage from high above Gruinard Bay on the southbound journey in the afternoon sun are always evocative.

Back to basics by 20th a Northern Wheatear at Bothal Pond was probably my last at an inland site in 2021. The following day an adult Avocet was among the Lapwings in the north-east corner and again almost certainly the last I’ll see inland this year. A Northern Pintail was also a decent duck for the local pond.

Two days later at Castle Island a drake Scaup lurked in the Tufted Duck flock and a swarthy juvenile Common Goldeneye was the first of winter and along with 167 Eurasian Teal a reminder that time marches on.

A good couple of hours around Newbiggin Moor on 25th brought little by way of rarity, 2 Northern Wheatears hung around the golf course boundary and 235 Pink-footed Geese made their way noisily south. Best bird was a hybrid Hooded x Carrion Crow; presumably not a first generation hybrid as it just has the ghost of the Hooded plumage pattern which despite me fluffing the images can still be seen.

A short stop to check field-feeding gulls near Longhirst Flash through up (another) adult Mediterranean Gull increasingly a regular sight in any local gull flock.

Back to Newbiggin on 28th three Northern Wheatears were the passerine highlight whilst a search through the thousand strong Golden Plover flock had me briefly excited with the bird below, which whilst head-tucked and half-hidden had me hoping for an American but turned out to be a pale European when it eventually revealed itself.

Later that day I called into the Hospital Pool, now partially drained due to the ongoing building work I suspect that 2021 will see it’s final demise and it won’t see another Spring. Disappointing as the Med Gulls have taken a bit of a liking to it since late summer.