Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Pec Of The Pops

I've had a busy couple of weeks since my last post here.
I spent the best part of a week in the North East, with three days working at the RSPB's fab Saltholme reserve near Middlesborough.
While there I stayed in the seaside 'resort' of Seaton Carew. The great thing about this was my seaview, which allowed me to 'scope the bird-filled North Sea from my bedroom window. Staring out to sea on our coast can be somewhat frustrating, with comparatively few good bird days to be had (still definitely worth doing in the right conditions!). However, a cursory few minutes peering through my 'scope from Seaton rewarded me with views of countless terns, rafts of eider and common scoter, plus fly-by auks, fulmars, gannets and Arctic skuas.
Given the time of year, I was rather hopeful of a few decent migrants along the coast and each morning I checked a few likely hotspots: Seaton Common, Seaton cemetery, North Gare, etc. Unfortunately it wasn't as productive as I'd hoped and other than a few whinchats grounded migrants were minimal. I did get superb views of a short-eared owl though, so it wasn't all bad.
At Saltholme itself, waders were the main news with little stints, curlew sandpiper and other regular autumn shorebirds passing through. A couple of eclipse plumage garganey were still on site as well as the very unseasonal smew that arrived a few weeks earlier.

I returned to the west coast last Thursday and headed off down to Aldcliffe for a spot of proper patch birding.
First off, a dazzling kingfisher was at Freeman's Pools but not much else was there. Checking the bushes along the cycle track I was dismayed by the lack of migrants - a lone chiffchaff was the only bird of note.
At Gull Bank I scanned through the roosting lapwing. A nice trio of golden plover were nice to see, and then I spotted something else. It had its back to me, and it was clearly smaller than the nearby plover and lapwing. Palish legs were evident but I couldn't really get anything else on it until all the birds raised their heads in response to a passing peregrine. It was clearly a calidrid and as it turned I could see the clear 'braces' on its mantle and 'warm', streaky breast - it was a juvenile pectoral sandpiper!

A pectoral sandpiper
As soon as I'd realised what it was I was looking at, all the birds got up as the marauding peregrine piled in. I kept on the sandpiper as the flock flew around in panic. The indistinct wing bar and white patches at the sides of the tail were notable.
Thankfully the birds soon resettled and I was able to see the pec much better this time but within a matter of half a minute or so they all went up and again, thanks to that pesky falcon! This happened once more with the majority of birds landing again but this time the pec was further away, and seemed a little agitated. On the fourth flush the lapwings all went up again but the sandpiper headed high and I thought that it was going to just keep gaining height but it rapidly dropped down onto the estuary somewhere between where I was stood and Snatchems.   
I headed down to Marsh Point to see if I could relocate it but there was no sign of it. Of practically no compensation were a ruff and an adult Mediterranean gull.
I had tried to get a snap of the distant bird using my hand-held camera but failed spectacularly - so here's one I prepared earlier (to use Blue Peter parlance). This was taken in Canada. 

The following day I had another look (after failing first to see the Caspian gull and Cocker's Dyke) but other than a pair of greenshank, the estuary failed to reveal any waders of note.

I then spent the weekend near Brampton at the well-publicised bee-eater breeding site. With the first youngster fledging on Friday we were expecting a few days of excitement as the remaining chicks emerged from the nest tunnel to join the family flying around for all and sundry to see. Alas, it was not to be quite as we'd hoped. No other chicks left the nest, and the adults and single young bird took off and spent the day about 1/2 a mile away! On Sunday there was no sign of any bee-eaters whatsoever. Despite the rather disappointing outcome, we were at least cheered by the fact that although only one young bird had left the nest it was still a success - and only the third ever successful breeding by this truly enigmatic species in the United Kingdom! Not to be sniffed at.
Oh, and while I was at Brampton I got word that Guy McClelland and re found the pectoral sandpiper again at Gull Bank on Saturday. Nice! 

It was back to routine yesterday with a good 2-plus hours spent scouring Aldcliffe. Highlights included a nice 1st winter male common redstart at Walled Meadow along with a lesser whitethroat. A reed warbler was at Bank Pool and a green sandpiper was at the Wildfowlers' Pools.
A repeat trudge this morning was slightly birdier with a juv-type marsh harrier being the best bird. It had attracted the attention of a pair of ravens who busily mobbed it until it drifted across the river and headed towards Heysham at considerable height.
There were tons of swallows moving though, and what was presumably the same redstart was again at Walled Meadow. 
A nice feeding group of birds in an elder included 2 blackcap, 2 lesser whitethroat and a handful of willow warbler and chiffchaff. Another lesser whitethroat was in the hedge further along. A common whitethroat was at Freeman's Wood.
One each of green sandpiper and greenshank were at the Wildfolwers' Pools.


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