March 18: NW Durham
A brief trip to the garage for sticks and heat logs for the fire; on the journey back about 19:00 got a great but brief view of a barn owl hunting in a young plantation next to the road.
86. Western Barn Owl
March 19: NW Durham
I had just been lamenting the dearth of mistle thrushes on my local walks, in contrast to the relative abundance of song thrushes, when two flew out of a small coniferous shelter belt and landed in a pasture field. Nice to get another local walk year list species.
March 26: NW Durham
Another 'green' year list addition, not too far from my village, seen on a very wet 10km walk this morning. A sign of the times that this was actually the target species of today's walking route, no. 50 on my local walking list for the month.
March 28: North Newcastle on Tyne
Sharp-eyed partner spotted a Goldcrest in low scrub near a railway line path on our step-accumulating late morning walk. I was momentarily excited as I caught a flash of white in the undergrowth, but it turned out to be the wing bar, not an eye stripe...on our return, the two stock doves which have recently become regular visitors to her vegetable patch were present. She was feeling a little aggrieved to have spotted two new additions to my year list, and zero for her own!
90. Stock Dove
March 28: Big Waters
Although my partner resists all attempts to call herself a birder, she was both extremely satisfied and overjoyed to have spotted one of her favourite species - a herd of 10 whooper swans no less - and clawed one back on me for her year list. We both added shoveler to the year list; although I thought we'd already seen shoveler this year (on Jan 1st at Teesmouth?), it doesn't appear on either of our lists.
March 30: Beadnell Bay, Northumberland
Took a day off work with my partner to take advantage of the excellent weather and do a coastal walk up Beadnell Bay. Tern colony not fenced off yet, so we were able to cross the Long Nanny at low tide on the way to Beadnell, and return over the bridge and dunes to our car near High Newton.
Didn't think there were any terns around yet until we stopped for lunch and had a longer scan of the bay, picking up a solitary Sandwich tern being hassled by herring gulls. Also added stonechat to my year list and partner added (lots of) meadow pipits, but the highlights were a flock of 200 curlew on the Saltmarsh at Long Nanny, and around 250 pink feet in nearby fields.
Checked Scythebill for IOC English names, and surprised to see that stonechat is now plain old 'Stonechat', but is 'European Stonechat' in Clements. This doesn't denote lumping, as Siberian (and presumably also Stejneger's) are separately identified.
April 03: North Newcastle on Tyne
A real treat in store at the local country park bird feeders.
10. Brown Rat
A late afternoon walk ended with us crossing a fallow field on a footpath as the sun was setting - partner spotted a partridge in the distance, and we eventually got great views on the ground of a calling grey partridge - don't think she'd had a chance to really study the colours on our native partridge before.
94. Grey Partridge
I seem to be the only member of my family who hasn't seen a parakeet in NE England, including the non-birders...dipped again on Easter Sunday, when we went for a walk with my partner's son and his rescue lurcher, in an area where they are frequently seen. Nice view of a nuthatch though. Anyone who might think I'm anti-dog following my moaning on BF about out of control dogs on coastal sites would be wrong - really like the young lurcher and he seems to like me - although he does seem to view spaniels and cyclists as potential prey items, so we have to be a bit careful when walking around with him.
April 15: NW Durham
Now that I've finished my March charity walking I've slipped back into my old ways, spending too much time in front of a computer stressing out about work. Went into the office today for a change, and took a short lunchtime walk in the sunshine. Right on cue, 15 April, my first willow warbler appeared, showing nicely at the top of an immature birch tree before retreating into dense birch scrub.
April 17: Holy Island, Northumberland
Enjoying the freedom to explore a little further from home, although we still avoided cafes and brought our own packed lunch. South-easterly airflow made me hope for a few more summer migrants on the island, but it was relatively quiet bird-wise, at least on our Straight Lonnen - coast - Crooked Lonnen circuit.
Gosforth, Newcastle on Tyne
Went for an early evening walk with partner's son and his dog, finally connecting with the local parakeets. Whilst ticking a feral species might not be the best way to bring up no. 100, I can't help liking parakeets, and these were my first seen outside of London & SE England (and Delhi...).
April 24: Newcastle on Tyne
Didn't get out birding this weekend, with some much-needed gardening duties to attend to, but did venture into town for the first time in ages for a walk on Newcastle Quayside. Very busy on Saturday afternoon with lots of people queuing outside open-air bars - it really felt like lockdown was over, for how long I wonder...anyway, added the Quayside's avian star attraction, always nice to see.
101. Black-legged Kittiwake
My confusion over IOC names on Scythebill was resolved when I realised it had defaulted to BOC English names when I updated it to the Mac version after migrating from my old Windows laptop. Unfortunately the 'members lists' section on the BF upgrade no longer seems to allow the capacity to edit old posts.
May 02: Gullane Bay, East Lothian
Our first holiday for what seems like ages - a short break in Scotland from 01 - 06 May. It started well even before we'd left the house - watching a willow tit in my partner's garden taking sunflower seeds from the feeder and eating them on the branch of her nearby pear tree.
The next day we met up with my son and his partner at Gullane Bay - he lives in Midlothian, so we haven't been able to meet up for ages due to Covid restrictions. We first walked to Gullane Point - not really birding of course, but I had my 'scope in the rucksack and deployed it when we stopped on the rocks. There was still a big (300?) flock of scoters offshore, quite distant but close enough to see they were composed of both common and velvet scoter - I'd noticed on eBird there were no common scoter records for May, just velvets, so wondered if these were lingering a little later than usual with the weather. Later on when walking to the east of the bay we saw a whitethroat doing its song flight in the sea buckthorn scrub, giving rise to a somewhat contrasting pair of additions to the year list.
May 03: Musselburgh
Over the course of two days I reminded myself why I don't like twitching. The first reason, being honest, is that I am pretty rubbish at it. I'd seen on Twitter that a surf scoter had been seen that morning at Musselburgh, and as the weather was due to turn distinctly grim my partner was happy to take a drive along the coast to have a go at seeing it. The first problem was I'd got the tides completely wrong, arriving at low tide; the second problem was the north wind and rain had really kicked in, so we ended up doing a lot of scanning from the car, strategically placed in car parks and promenades from Fisherrow towards the mouth of the Esk. Needless to say, we drew a blank...
May 04: Seacliff Beach, East Lothian
After calling into North Berwick to put our names down on the waiting list for a fully-booked trip to the Isle of May next month, we headed down to Seacliff Beach as sunshine returned after the spell of rain. Well worth the £3.00 entrance fee, and really pleased I'd gone equipped for photography rather than taking the 'scope today - gannets from nearby Bass Rock were skimming the water close inshore, picking up fragments of seaweed from the water surface to decorate their nests. Added shag to the year list, but this was all about the birding experience in a great setting.
Tyninghame, East Lothian
Thought we'd check out the 'other' Tyne estuary for shorebirds - only visited once before, and we were close by. I'd read on Twitter there'd briefly been a spotted sandpiper at the weekend, and I wasn't expecting to see it today. However, a friendly birder stopped us in the car park to say that he and others had just seen it in a salt marsh creek, although it was frequently hidden, so twitching attempt #2 kicked in...'scope rather than camera would've been better for this purpose, but we started positively with some whimbrels on the marsh. These were flushed by a couple of other birders walking over the marsh to view the creeks - clearly seeing a vagrant sandpiper was more important to them than allowing migrating whimbrels to feed undisturbed. We spent a little while longer walking the footpath, but it remained an unspotted sandpiper for us; reason #2 why I don't like twitching is actually I hate the disappointment of failure, and would've been happier not knowing it was there and just enjoying the whimbrel. And I've already described reason #3...
May 05: Gullane Bay
Morning high tide provided another great inshore gannet experience, this time fishing just offshore, and providing some great photos from the beach - admittedly most of the best taken on my camera by my partner.
We found a vantage point for a picnic in the sunshine while watching heavy showers over the Fife coast drifting across the Forth to the east of our somewhat charmed location. A few auks about in the bay, including some razorbills.
May 06: River Tyne at Haddington
According to eBird, this has records of dippers, which my partner hasn't seen this year - being close to our accommodation and not far from the A1 road, we called off here prior to making our journey back to England.
Our luck of the past couple of days with weather deserted us, with a wet walk upriver from the town centre. It was worth it though, for the large flock of sand martins feeding on low-flying insects over the river, around the churchyard, and under the trees in the park. I added a nice male blackcap to my year list too, but we dipped on dipper - most of the river in the reaches we walked were impounded by weirs and too sluggish to be optimal, with just a few more turbulent sections with riffles. She has plenty of options in Northumberland to catch me up on this species though.
Last weekend provided an early test of my recently reaffirmed no-twitch rule, when I tried to go cold turkey. I distracted myself doing some shopping at Sainsbury's, helping out in my partner's garden, and looking at apple trees in a local nursery. Three reed buntings and a willow tit in my partner's garden helped ease the gnawing discontentment. But it wasn't just another tick for my life list, it was a new family, and it was only 20 minutes away...I held out until mid-afternoon on Sunday.
May 12: Bletchley, Buckinghamshire
Work trip south for a couple of days, no time for birding but kept my eyes open in the middle of other tasks. I do find green woodpeckers are much more common in the south.
May 16: north Newcastle on Tyne
Finally added swift to the year list with just a couple of birds seen from my partner's place, quite distant and paying no attention to her swift boxes or swift call recordings. Rest of the weekend was on gardening duties, listening over the background of swift calls to a nearby whitethroat and some chirping tree sparrows which breed in a neighbours boxes, with blackcap, chiffchaff and song thrush more distant - no willow warblers heard though, there was one singing a couple of weeks ago near the house.
May 22: Rothbury, Northumberland
Good start to the day at my partner's place with siskin, willow tit and a pair of reed buntings visiting the garden. We decided on a trip up to previously very familiar territory in Rothbury, and walked upriver along the River Coquet in an effort to add some riparian species. Plenty to see, with lots of sand martins feeding low over the river, plus willow warblers, redpolls, and oystercatchers - the river was quite high though due to recent rains, which didn't bode well for waders nesting on shingle. Eventually I spotted our main target - common sandpiper - and also got my partner a dipper, helping her equal my year list total. Two sedge warblers remained stubbornly hidden in dense scrub, or she'd have been able to go one up on me.