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.
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.
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.