Winter Wanderings & Wayward Whimbrel

Lots to report this week with visits here, there and everywhere along the Northumberland coast. First to the patch (as ever) and this morning found me a little dumbfounded by a very unseasonal visitor to the Blyth. Walking along the Northern bank of the estuary at first light a familiar call caught my attention intertwined with the calls of numerous Curlew departing their roost in the adjacent fields. Embarrassingly however this took me a short while to process – you do not, after all, expect to hear a Whimbrel in the middle of January! Sure enough however after a short while, the bird called again though I was unable to pick it out from my position on the North bank. Still, a mega patch record and my first ever winter Whimbrel. Definitely “bird of the year” thus far on the patch and one that made for interesting conversation on Twitter with folk that have similarly recorded this species wintering on their respective patches this year. (and yes, this being January I have tried to convince myself that I didn’t hear it though short of someone using Xeno-canto in a nearby bush I am entirely sure it was Whimbrel).

Elsewhere on the Blyth, other goodies this week include a flyover white-winged gull that due to its size and shape could only have been Glaucous. This was quickly lost when it made its way south towards the harbour however. Tawny Owl was also new for the year this week with two birds calling in the vicinity of Ha’Penny Woods Nature Reserve while additional new Patchwork Challenge species include; Fulmar and 15-20 Brent Geese on this mornings seawatch, Siskin at Furnace Bank and Little Egret (at long last) beneath the Kitty Brewstar bridge at Blyth. In addition to these shiny new additions; 15 Common Scoter, 13 Red-Breasted Merganser, 6 Red-Throated Diver, 4 Shag, 4 Guillemot and a lone Teal were nabbed on this mornings seawatch while both Grey and Red-Legged Partridge remain in evidence on alternate sides of the river. Spending at least two hours a day on patch certainly seems to be paying off of late with 94 species and 104 points racked up to date this year. One of the few perks of unemployment I guess though I am still missing Velvet Scoter, Stock Dove, Yellowhammer, Kingfisher and Rook!

Moving a little further afield, the weekend found me up North at Dunstanburgh with Sacha and Ian to aid Sacha with a NEWs survey. All in all this proved to be a fantastic day out with no less than 11 Little Auks notched during our stay, including four birds milling around just behind the surf. A little odd given the relatively calm whether of late but you won’t catch me complaining! Alongside these, three Velvet Scoter heading North were similarly noteworthy while other seawatching highlights included 8 Guillemot, a handful of Shag, Fulmar, Red-Throated Diver, Red-Breasted Merganser and of course, Eider. A scattering of Purple Sandpiper and Turnstone also fed on the rocks nearby while the neighboring golf course held two separate flocks of Twite, a few Stonechat and a Grey Wagtail. Not bad at all!

Free time either side of the aforementioned NEWs survey was filled with a few localized twitchs starting with QEII Country Park where the wintering Iceland Gull showed well for a good fifteen minutes, appearing to turn its nose up at the bread offered to the lakes less exotic inhabitants. A few Goldeneye also showed rather well here, as did a pair of Wigeon and of course hoards of Mute SwansMallard and Coot though little else was noted. Following our success here we next opted to pop over to Hemscott Hill where we found Iain Robson scrutinizing a large assemblage of Pink-Footed Geese in one of the roadside fields. After a brief tenure here we together managed to pick out three European White-Fronted Geese and a single Barnacle Goose from the fray while a Water Pipit flew overhead towards the beach. Next on the agenda was the presumed Cou’s Arctic Redpoll at Birling Carrs though we ended up missing the bird (and all Mealy Redpolls) by a matter of minutes. The flock had apparently split prior to our arrival with one half heading off in a different direction. Still, the twenty or so Lesser Redpoll on show did provide an overdue year tick. Further down the coast our ill luck continued, trying and failing to pick out the Cresswell Pond Long-Billed Dowitcher. A Marsh Harrier here was a welcome surprise however and the resident flock of Tree Sparrows put on a fine show on the feeders. Following this, the day concluded in rather nice fashion with both Barn Owl and Woodcock in the vicinity of Stobswood. A pretty successful day all in all, despite dipping the major rarities.

Next week will see me heading down to Norfolk (for only the second time) for the Next Generation Birders winter meet-up. Here I hope to land no less than ten lifers including some hideously overdue species such as Hawfinch and Cetti’s Warbler alongside, of course, some more tantalizing species such as Pallid Harrier, Serin and Golden Pheasant. Only time will tell I guess but I’m certainly looking forward to it. If all else fails a good local pub will suffice.

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