Friday, 12 October 2018

Birding on a Blustery Day - and a Bonus

I was at South Gare at first light this morning, hoping to find newly arrived migrants (birds, not people, that is) that might have been driven to seek shelter from the strong southerly winds and rain.

I spent a good four hours looking in all the main places where birds are seen at the gare (the Bomb Hole, the Tea Bushes, Cabin Rocks, Shrike Bushes, the Quarries etc)  - most of which are picturesquely but inaccurately named and many of which I have only just learned the precise locations of. It was so windy that in many cases my first fleeting view of a bird was also my last one, but I still managed to identify several, including at least one (possibly two or three) Ring Ouzels, several Bramblings in flight and a constant trickle of Redwings coming off the sea and flying inland.

The Ring Ouzel is a bird in the thrush family and looks very like our common Blackbird, except that the males have a large white crescent on their chests. They breed in mountains and upland moors in Britain and Scandinavia, as well as high mountains further south, and spend the winter in various places around the Mediterranean. The one I saw today, as well many others that have been seen along the east coast in the last couple of days, are likely to be birds that bred in Scandinavia and have just flown across the North Sea. It's a similar picture for Redwings (another member of the thrush family) and Bramblings (a finch closely related to the Chaffinch but with orangey colouration and a different call) - both these species breed in northern Europe and spend the winter further south.

As well as meeting some nice birds I also met some nice birders and got to know couple of the South Gare regulars, including one who has been birding there for 20 years, and another who grew up locally, used to go there as a child and has recently moved back to Redcar after many years away. I have found it hard up to this point to get to know the local birders much (except for the bird-ringers) and particularly at South Gare, so it felt like a bit of a breakthrough today. They were both very informative about the best places to look for birds, and the exact locations of the different spots. I've now got them all marked on Google Earth on my computer (the spots, not the birders).

And the bonus...

When I got home, around lunchtime, having thought that my birding was over for the day, I looked on the local bird club website and saw that a Spotted Sandpiper, normally only found in the Americas, had been seen on the beach at Marske, about five miles along the coast from where I had been all morning. By now it was pouring rain and so I decided to have lunch first and then headed out again to try and get a new bird for my British list (I've seen them in the USA and Canada before). On getting out of the car at Marske I was almost blown off my feet by the wind but I persevered and headed to the group of people and telescopes that I could see down on the beach. It was a refreshing change to be able to 'get onto' the bird almost as soon as I arrived (as you will know if you've read my previous blog about twitching a Franklin's Gull, it doesn't always happen like that) and I watched it through my scope at close range for about twenty minutes, battling with the wind to stay on my feet the whole time - as was the bird which  was feeding among the pebbles at the edge of the beach and it was really something, the way it was being blown around but just carrying on catching small insects. After I'd really studied it for a while I decided to risk getting my camera wet (it was still raining moderately) and managed to get a few photos - I wasn't expecting to be able to, given the wind, but the bird being so close made it possible.

The Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularia - the second bit means 'spotted') is closely related to, and very similar to, the Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleuca) which is found in many watery habitats around Britain and is a familiar sight to most British birders. It gets its name from the big bold spots all over the breast of the adults in breeding plumage. However, this one was a juvenile, hatched this year, and so didn't have the spots and in fact looked very like a juvenile Common Sandpiper, but with a slightly shorter tail relative to the length of the wings.

The Spotted Sandpiper I saw today is the 333rd species of bird that I have seen in the UK or Ireland.

Spotted Sandpiper - as well as the shorter tail, the smudge on the side of the breast
is greyer and more uniform in Spotted than it is in Common Sandpiper

The pale barring on the edge of the wing - just about visible in this photo -
shows that this  is a juvenile and not a winter plumage adult

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