Sunday, 13 June 2021

North East birding with Nick (06-11 June)

With no foreign birding trips since early 2019 and the prospect of any before 2022 rapidly evaporating I decided to spend a few days with Nick Preston in Redcar. As well as catching up with Nick he had been primed that my main hopes were for Black Grouse and Dipper, neither of which I'd seen for over 10 years, but I was up for anything else.

Sunday 06 June. I left home at 13:30 and arrived in Redcar soon after 19:30 - traffic had been slow around the worst part of the M25 and I'd briefly stopped to see where an advertised road closure was on the A19 (fortunately after my turn-off). It was great to see Nick for the first time since August 2019. 

Monday 07 June. We left very early and were watching the Red-necked Stint distantly on the Blyth Estuary by 05:00, a journey not helped by an overnight road closure and confusing diversion signs. A smart bird, we scoped it for two hours hoping it might fly onto our side of the estuary. It flew twice but ended up further away. Also seen were 15 Eider, 17 Goosanders and a Little Stint. We continued north to East Chevington where we saw the singing Great Reed Warbler (another distant rarity) and 2 male Marsh Harriers. Amble was our next stop and we walked south of town to stare across to Coquet Island. There were at least 2500 Puffins and 1500 Arctic Terns on and around the island with 150 Kittiwakes, 30 Sandwich Terns, 10 Guillemots and a few Fulmars, Gannets and Shags. A period of bright sunshine and the island being rather further offshore than I remembered meant it took a while to get our eyes in, me longer than Nick, to pick out some Roseate TernsEiders offshore with ducklings and 2 Goosanders were at a much easier range. Heading back south we called in at Druridge Bay seeing 8 Avocets, 3 Bar-tailed and 4 Black-tailed Godwits and a Grasshopper Warbler with 4 first-summer Little Gulls at Cresswell. Hearing news of a female Red-necked Phalarope Nick drove south then west to Grindon Lough, off the A69 near Hayden Bridge. We scanned the edges of the distant lough for over an hour before it appeared, encouraged by the incremental appearance of 2 Little Ringed Plovers and 3 Dunlin. A section of Hadrian's Wall was visible a couple of miles to the north while Langdon Beck was little more than 20 miles directly to the south. It hardly seemed a detour to return that way. We saw bubbling Curlews and a Short-eared Owl as we were driving over Fellhouse Fell and arrived at Langdon Beck at 18:00 seeing 9 male Black Grouse from the road. We watched them posturing for half an hour then continued down Teesdale. We had planned on visiting the area on another day and hadn't thought to take sleeping bags and some food for an overnight stay. We also didn't have a decent map with us and failed to find Deepdale where I'd seen Wood Warbler and Dipper in the distant past although by then it was getting late. We were back in Redcar at 22:00. A long but very successful day, the only disappointment being that none of the key birds were particularly close.

Red-necked Stint on the Blyth Estuary
my second in the UK and the first in summer-plumage
it started off distant and flew even further away
Goosanders on the Blyth Estuary

17 red-heads were present
male Marsh Harrier at East Chevington

Eider creche at Amble
Grasshopper Warbler playing hard to see at Druridge Bay
Housesteads Roman Fort at Hadrians Wall
I'd visited with the family in 2009
Red-necked Phalarope on Grindon Lough

Black Grouse at Langdon Beck

Tuesday 08 June. We left at a more civilised time and spent from 07:30-16:30 visiting various sites on the North York Moors. In a wooded valley near Hawnby we saw 5 Redstarts and a Grey Wagtail but not the hoped for Dippers on the river running through it. We drove up to Battersby Moor where we found a pair of Red Grouse and Cuckoo. We dropped down into Kildale and found a path skirting the River Leven. The river was in quite a deep valley and only visible in places but we did find 3 Dippers and another 2 Grey Wagtails. Continuing to Commondale and beyond we saw Red Kite, 2 Redstarts and 2 Red Grouse. Curlews were vocal in the uplands and several Red-legged Partridges were flushed from the lower roads. Back in Redcar we went looking for Barn Owls in Coatham Marsh without success although a reeling Grasshopper Warbler was almost as good.

view NW from Battersby Moot

Dipper near Kildale
it didn't linger

Wednesday 09 June. We watched from the Raptor Viewpoint in Wykeham Forest from 08:00-16:30, mostly with Mark Rowbottom who I'd not seen for 30 years or more. I'd not been before and was interested to compare it to Acres Down where I'd been the previous week. The forest was somewhat closer at Wykeham although some near trees had grown up in recent years to hide sections of it. We saw 2 Goshawks within the first half hour and several other sightings throughout the day. At least 4 individuals were likely to have been involved. No Honey Buzzard sightings was a disappointment as Nick had seen 3 the previous week. Other raptors seen were 2 Red Kites, 6+ Buzzards, 2 Kestrels and 2 Hobbys. Due to a combination of ineffective scanning and ambiguous directions I failed to pick up a distant kite Nick watched for several minutes pretty sure it was a Black. So a final Wykeham v Acres Down score card of 4-0 Goshawk, 0-1 Honey Buzzard, 2-2 Hobby and -0.9-0 Black Kite. Also from the viewpoint were singing Willow and Garden Warblers, male Bullfinches, 4 Crossbills and 5 Siskins. Driving back we stopped at the Mill Inn in Harwood Dale seeing Turtle Dove and 34 Tree Sparrows and a late call had us diverting to Loftus and a Rose-coloured Starling in Easington.

Wykeham Raptor Viewpoint
the forest stretched around behind the trees on both sides
Crossbill at Wykeham Forest
Rosy Starling near Loftus
a smarter bird than suggested by these images which were taken in failing light

Thursday 10 June. On my last full day we concentrated on Nick's local patch, South Gare. Early on unseasonal Wheatear briefly appeared by the breakwater and a few terns (Common and a Little), Kittiwakes and a Shag flew in and out of the estuary mouth. The day had a quiet early summer feel but it only takes one bird, my suggestion being Scarlet Rosefinch but I was wrong. Leaving the end we started across the Cabin Rocks and I asked Nick if it might be better for me to spread out rather than follow him. He turned and told me he was heading for a patch of bushes and when I turned to do likewise I saw a bird sat on a post  about 150m ahead, it looked too large for a wheatear or pipit and I quickly raised by bins to discover a shrike, head on and against the light. Improving our angle we were able to confirm it was a Woodchat Shrike, according to Nick only the 2nd for the Gare and the 8th for Cleveland. It remained in a smallish area all day although it wouldn't tolerate close approach. We were on the Gare, watching the shrike and checking other areas, until early afternoon when we returned to Redcar. We came out again after tea, saw the shrike again but registered another fail with Barn Owl. As well as the shrike we saw Ringed and Little Ringed Plovers, 2 Lapwings, 4 Turnstones, Peregrine, Sedge Warbler and Whitethroats. Ten years ago today I saw the White-throated Robin at Hartlepool (on  its last day) while last year on this date I found a Red-footed Falcon on the Downs north of Shoreham, a date for me to remember. 

looking south from South Gare
South Gare fishermen's cabins. Cabin Rocks are behind middle right
female Woodchat Shrike at Cabin Rocks

off after another bee
got it

presumed Southern Marsh Orchids on South Gare
Little Ringed Plovers at the Blast Furnace Pool
5 adults and 3 chicks were seen

Ringed Plover at the Blast Furnace Pool, another was on a nest nearby
Nick at South Gare

Friday 11 June. A final morning on South Gare. Still no Barn Owls, Nick had seen them hunting regularly the previous week, and the Woodchat Shrike had gone. I saw 20 Swifts, the Ringed Plover on its nest, 2 adult and 2 juvenile Little Ringed Plovers, 17 Sanderling on the beach, 10 Common and 2 Little TernsSparrowhawk, 2 Sedge and a poor view of a Grasshopper Warbler, 4 Whitethroats and 8 Stonechats. I left Redcar at 12:30 and drove home, being diverted from the M1 across to the M40 at Northampton - due to carriage repairs following an accident north of Luton. That and very slow traffic in places meant I didn't arrive home until 19:30 although I did see 23 Red Kites on the M40. It had been a great few days.

Bee Orchid on South Gare