The Pit Top

One of the personal highlights of 2020 for me has been the realisation that the partially wooded hill that sits on the east side of my home village has some real potential when it comes to visible migration. Early on in the lockdown when there was a fair amount of social media chatter as birders rediscovered their hyper-local home Mike Carr made a comment about the potential of the reclaimed pit top. It’s not somewhere I’m unaware of and I have put in the occasional half hour from there when I haven’t fancied anything further afield. Has to be said I’ve never really had too much, a yaffling Green Woodpecker nearly two decades ago and never since, a few Common Buzzards and Sparrowhawk but no real passage of note. However it has decent vistas east and west, a view of one corner of Bothal Pond and a couple of seasonal flashes to the East.

Early morning March 28th saw my first morning hour from 07:00-08:00. A single Greylag Goose flew over noisily as I reached the top of the short incline and then two Mistle Thrushes lifted from the wood on the north side. Looking east three Mute Swans swept past on the south side heading west, they were followed at intervals by a further seven (3 and 4) moving North over Ashington. Having seen the Greater Scaup at Bothal Pond fairly frequently I knew where it likes to haul out, the short spit on the east side, and this luckily is visible from the pit top, as was the preening Scaup this morning alongside two Tufted Ducks for size comparison.
Things got a bit mad after that, scoping the edges of the seasonal flashes hoping for the Longhirst Green Sandpiper and two Avocets suddenly appear from behind a hedge obscuring part of the flash. I’ve had them nearby on other flashes previously as they move through to breeding locations but I was well chuffed to see them on my first big lockdown watch! Further along the same field a couple of courting Stock Doves were another new addition. In terms of moving birds, a couple of the Common Buzzards this morning were actively moving north and a pair of Grey Wagtails wanged through on the east side as well. All in all with 25 species recorded I was reasonably satisified with how things started.

During April I put in several hours viewing from the hill and had a couple of notable reports as reward. On the evening of the 6th, two reports of Osprey moving north, one at Big Waters/Blagdon and another at Tynemouth prompted me to hurriedly dash to the Pit Top hoping to connect with one. Just before 19:00 I noticed a bird approaching from the south-east over the west end of Ashington mobbed by corvids and sure enough an Osprey tracked north-west, turning slightly and veering just above tree-top height over Longhirst Flash.

Fast-forward to evening of 16th and around a similar time a little to west over Bothal Pond up pops a Common Crane again attracting attention from local gulls and crows before almost flying over my head on the pit top and off north. Other decent records during this period involved female Marsh Harrier and distant galaxy views of two Red Kites that hung around north-west of Morpeth during the late Spring.

Summer came and went and it was 24th September, whilst working around mid-morning I noticed a couple of flight-only Great Egret reports from Cleveland but didn’t think too much about them. At 10:48 up popped a post (from John Harrison) in the local Whatsapp of a northbound Great Egret east of the Rising Sun CP on North Tyneside. Remembering the successes in the Spring I wondered if this Egret was on a bit of a journey. Was it the same individual seen in Cleveland earlier on a big northward movement and could I connect.

I decided to gamble, threw the laptop in the bag and yomped up the damp pit top to the ‘viewpoint’ and set up the scope before resuming work and periodically scanning across to the east. Sure enough after around 10 minutes an egret appeared fairly low about 40m up over central Ashington, moving steadily north. Scope on it and bingo it was the big white one, it chuntered on passing directly over Ashington High Street, skirted the Jackie Milburn statue and continued on just to to the west side of Queen Elizabeth II CP, then through the Lynemouth Wind Farm and off north. 

I have now made eight visits over the last seven months and seen 52 species so far, I’m convinced that more effort will provide greater rewards so the Pit Top is going to become a more regular feature in my local birding moving forward.

Tundra Ringed Plovers

Late Spring in Northumberland often sees movements of Arctic-breeding waders making a rapid leap beyond the local birds that have already settled into the breeding cycle to areas far to the north that will have retained their snow until much later in the year. Ringed Plovers are one such wader and the birds moving through in late May are a different race tundrae. Smaller and darker plumaged they often appear in good numbers and with a little care are separable from local hiaticula birds.

23 May 2014 I found and photographed a small flock of Ringed Plovers at Lynemouth Flash, Northumberland. A number of the flock were identifiable as tundrae. Tundra Ringed Plvers moult into breeding plumage in Feb/March so consequently have less wear/fresher plumage in late Spring than the local breeders who are only a month or so away from primary moult.

Tundra Ringed Plover male
Tundra Ringed Plover, female (note difference in browner crown feathers, less distinct head pattern)