Friday, 5 February 2016

Northumberland provides again

On Thursday RBA was showing three "starred" species for the north east; long-billed dowitcher, Coues' arctic redpoll and black scoter... I wasn't going to pass up on this one. Unfortunately Tom wasn't able to come up for a run around in the north, but James of Common by Nature was well up for a twitch.

After a hellish drive up, I finally picked up James at 9 am (practically dusk) and we bundled for our first target bird - arctic redpoll. The car park only had four cars in when we arrived and there were no birders in attendance. Apparently this little gem had lost its initial shine.

We got to the game cover, but there wasn't a single finch in sight. The wind was blowing a hoolie, and everything was hunkered well into cover. Then, bang, a flock of 18 redpoll flew over, battling in the breeze, refusing to decide on a place to settle. We watched the whirl and prayed that they'd land close by.

As soon as they did, the little snowy bird shone out amongst its drabber cousins. Not bad for 15 minutes work. We snapped a few pictures of the little birds as they were buffeted. Occasionally the would drop down to the field edge to feed, then they'd pick up and wheel above us, always returning to the fence. Job done, on to our next bird, hopefully bobbing on the sea north of Bamburgh Castle...

Sticks out a bit doesn't it!
Not quite the clear shots that others have gotten...

Pulling up at Stag Rocks and setting up the scopes, we quickly located a feeding flock of common scoter and frantically tried to check every bill in the rising swell; but to no avail. We began to pan for more ducks, picking up long-tail, eider and a velvet scoter flying north. Then we caught sight of another three scoter closer to the shore, one with a whacking great yellow/orange lump to the bill.

There is a bit of debate about this bird at the moment, but the bird we saw had the characteristic wide bill with brighter, more orangey, colouration. I even managed a closer view using another birder's shiny new Kowa, and he seemed pretty convinced too. If there hadn't been all the chatter around it, I'd have been happy to tick it (perhaps I should forget my relative new-ness to the game, who says they were even looking at the same bird!?).

We watched the scoter for a while, but there wasn't much else moving on the sea. Then we checked the alerts... Penduline tit at Saltholme... What?... I threw the phone to James so that he could see I wasn't joking, started the car and headed south.

Passing Cresswell we nipped in for the dowitcher. The tits hadn't been seen since their first appearance and we gambled that we'd have the time to add it to our year lists. Well the wader was nowhere to be seen, but we were entertained by a marsh harrier that had successfully knocked off a teal and was trying to pluck and eat it before the crows could get a look in.

Still, there was no dowitcher, and we decided it was tine to move on. A quick look in at QE2 park to check on the Iceland gull (absent) and to drop James off at home, then I was though the tunnel and on my way to Saltholme... Sadly the penduline tits did not reappear, but I hold out hope for tomorrow.

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