Monday saw me embarking on a lengthy 10-mile stroll along my favourite stretch of coastline. A rare free day allowing for a leisurely saunter between the reserves of Druridge Bay; to engross myself in the various sights and sounds of Spring and rewild myself following an altogether monotonous week of university work. The day marked by pleasant sunshine, returning migrants, seasonal blooms, bees, butterflies and, of course, no end of fascinating birdlife – this is Druridge after all.
The route – not overly long or strenuous but good practice for August’s Curlew walk
The day started at Cresswell Pond: which I found surprisingly devoid of human life upon arrival. No birders, no farmers and, better still, no photographers harrying the local Barn Owls to within an inch of their life – bliss.
Here, as the rising sun painted the poolside Phragmites a pleasing gold, I enjoyed a spectacular dawn chorus. One dominated by the uplifting song of Skylark and the descending tones of Meadow Pipit, both singing en masse from within the surrounding fields. Their calls interspersed, in enjoyable fashion, by the repetitive notes of Chiffchaff, the metallic sound of Lapwings and, occasionally, the familiar song of a nearby Yellowhammer. Indeed, all of these species were observed in abundance as I made my way to the vacant hide, in addition to two Grey Partridge, twelve Tree Sparrow and a confiding pair of Stock Dove making the most of a pile of spilt grain beside the path.
Things remained interesting during my stay in the hide: with no less than ten Avocets observed immediately upon arrival, including six on the foreshore. The birds squabbling, courting and copulating in a flurry of activity as other waders – Redshank, Turnstone, Curlew and Snipe – slept, disinterested nearby. It is hard to believe that only a few years back these pristine, monochrome waders were a relatively scarce sight within the county. Their presence here, and at other local sites, testament to their ongoing recovery in Britain.
Avocets aside, the rest of the lagoon stood relatively quiet by comparison; a pair of Shoveler and a single Little Ringed Plover the only sightings of note. With the latter promptly taking flight, only to be relocated, half an hour later, at Hemscott Hill. Where, in the company of a few gulls, it gave good views on one of the roadside floods. A mixed flock of around twenty Linnet and eight Twite was also nice to see here; though they remained flighty and I soon found myself itching to move on.
Greenfinch also nice to see on route – far from the common bird they used to be
Next stop Druridge Pools and another hour spent languishing in the increasingly warm sun. The shelter belt here proved interesting; with the years first Willow Warblers – four to be precise – noted in full song alongside numerous Chiffchaff, Linnet, Song Thrush and Wren. Two Stonechat were observed here also, watchful yet approachable, as ever, though the real treat came from the floods – where a confused jumble of lingering Winter migrants and fresh new arrivals made for queer viewing. The Great White Egret was easily picked out – despite attempting to conceal itself amid a small tussock – and a Water Pipit fed outside the hide. Giving me my best views of this species to date and allowing for ample notes to be taken so that I may find one of my own in the future (and not misidentify a queer looking Scandinavian Rock Pipit).
Elsewhere on the budge fields, three Pintail made for a pleasant sight amid the massed bodies of Wigeon, Teal, Shoveler and Mallard; while a Eurasian White-Fronted Goose looked rather worse for where as it sat beside the nearest pool. With other highlights including eighteen Snipe, a few Dunlin, a Little Egret and a female Red-Breasted Merganser. Departing via the deeper pool to the North, the resident Great Crested Grebes appeared rather amorous and a lone Sand Martin hawked in solitude above the water.
Tree Sparrow at Cresswell
The short walk between Druridge and Chevington, as ever, proved enjoyable; the ground here, poached and muddied by the incessant footfall of the local cows, always good for a bird or two. Indeed, here, among the bovids, a number of Meadow Pipit, Skylark and Stonechat fed – with closer scrutinty of the cow feeders revealing four Twite and, on a more exciting note, the years first Alba Wagtail. The fields on the alternate side of the foothpath held a pair of Whooper Swans – perhaps the last I will see this Spring.
My time on the Chevington reserve itself started well: with the enigmatic sight of a male Marsh Harrier quartering the path-side scrub. The raptor rising and falling, hovering and diving until, eventually, it emerged with something small and brown clutched within its talons. A vole perhaps? Though it could equally have been a small bird. Also here, a Kestrel hunted around the Southern reedbed and a brief scan of Chibburn Burnmouth revealed a twittering flock of another 20+ Twite alongside the Littoralis (Scandinavian) Rock Pipit which, until that point, had been vexing birders for a number of days. A smart little bird with a definite Water Pipit look about it.
The North pool at Chevington was quiet by recent standards with no Scaup, Pochard and Slavonian Grebe to speak of, and certainly no Pacific Diver. The resident Great Crested Grebes (six of them) did, however, put on a go show; while a few more Sand Martin passed speedily through on route North.
Willow Warbler – my first of the year
Onwards from Chevington and little new was observed for a short while; although various common bits and bobs remained very much apparent. More Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Sand Martin; flyby Stock Doves and another pair of Grey Partridge. Things did, however, pick up as I wandered past Hauxley Nature Reserve where the raucous calls of descending geese caught my attention – the precursor to a flock of c200 birds dropping in to visit the pools and nearby fields. Greylags and Canada Geese were, of course, numerous; though thirty Pink-Footed Geese were somewhat suprising by comparison, my first in weeks. With these, eight White-Fronted Geese – looking altogether more fit and healthy than the earlier bird and doubtless just stopping in for a break on route back to their breeding grounds. A nice surprise and an unexpected addition to the day’s tally.
The day ended at Amble, with a brief bout of seawatching and the addition of Puffin to the year list. The sight of a few birds milling about on the sea a fitting precursor to what is to come later in the season; when I depart for the Farne Islands to carry out my MSc dissertation. A project centred entirely around these charismatic little auks.