The year start on a characteristically chipper note; my annual 1st of January foray with Sacha kicking off the year list with a decent 84 species. Though not before a dawn wander around my local patch – the Blyth Estuary – saw the usual commodities, Robins and what not, added in droves. Back with Sacha and the highlights of the day comprised ringtail Hen Harrier at Low Newton, 6 Shorelark at East Chevington, drake Pintail on Druridge Pools and a superb Peregrine on my old patch at Widdrington. Stag Rocks proved exciting, as always, with a dozen Long-Tailed Ducks close to shore in the company of the usual Red-Throated Divers, Guillemots and Common Scoter; while a mixed flock of Twite and Linnet fed in the nearby game-cover during the duration of our stay. Kittiwake and Gannet, provided nice winter ticks here, with Red-Breasted Merganser and Eider also new, though our attentions soon wandered and we set off South; noting Whooper Swans at Chevington and Woodhorn, Tree Sparrow and Little Egret at Cresswell and, finally, a flock of 8 Goosander at QEII County Park.
The ensuing week provided little of note on the run up to the county bird race; a juvenile Iceland Gull on patch at North Blyth the only exception to the rule. With Rock Pipit, Dipper, Grey Plover and Razorbill likewise new around the local area. The bird race proved much more exciting; a fantastic day out with Jack, Dan and Michael ending in victory with an impressive tally of 120 species. The highlights of the day including the discovery of a Glaucous Gull at Warkworth, a drake Scaup on East Chevington, White-Fronted Goose and Spotted Redshank at Budle Bay, Slavonian Grebe and Great Northern Diver at Stag Rocks and the Iceland Gull again at Blyth. Early morning found us adding not one but two Barn Owls near Bedlington, followed by Woodcock, Red Grouse and Tawny Owl further North; while belated year ticks included Kingfisher at Cullercoats, Pochard at Widdrington, Grey Partridge, Great Crested Grebe, Purple Sandpiper and Mediterranean Gull. A trio of Tundra Bean Geese at Hemscott Hill were also nice to see – a long overdue county tick for this limping Northumbrian birder – and a Chiffchaff near Amble came as somewhat of a suprise.
Outings over the following week were scant due to university, though a day out on the 12th with Jack came up trumps with distant views of the Cheswick Black Scoter and, towards dusk, Great Grey Shrike and Willow Tit at Prestwick Carr. The next tick coming on the 21st with exceptional views of Druridge Bay Pacific Diver as it fished on Ladyburn Lake, mere meters from amassed ranks of its admirers. Water Rail was likewise new here while a Willow Tit and an impressive flock of c100 Siskin entertained on route home. The next day finding me picking up Little Owl at Blyth Links and Brambling at Northumberlandia – the latter conveniently landing outside the window during a meeting with Northumberland Wildlife Trust.
The month wound to a close with the sight of 17 Ring-Necked Parakeets roosting in Newcastle – a queer sight up here in the North but one I suspect we will be seeing more of. A later trip around Morpeth allowed for the addition of Marsh Tit and Green Woodpecker – both difficult county birds in my opinion – while the female Black Redstart was finally unearthed at North Blyth. Two separate Waxwing encounters were also had this week; with c60 at Bedlington and a smaller group of 3 at Exhibition Park, Newcastle.
As it stands, January ends on a respectable (for a full-time student who does not drive) 136 species. My biggest omissions coming from Lesser Redpoll and Velvet Scoter; and some frustrating misses including Bittern, Short-Eared Owl, Long-Eared Owl and Merlin. The latter of which being the only one I am particularly worried about, for now at least.