It's the 24th of April and I've just realised that it is over two weeks, and 6 new NMT birds, since I last gave you an update, so here goes.
The weather has been really weird here since I last blogged - we had a lovely warm(ish) spell, followed by snow on the 11th of April and bitter cold for a few days and now we've had dry sunny weather for at least a week which looks like continuing for a couple more days before we get some much needed rain.
Consequently, it hasn't always felt like Spring, and it seems that the birds have felt that too, as there are several common Spring migrants that I have yet to see - including Swallow, House Martin, Whitethroat and Reed Warbler (even though these species are now present in the area, at least in small numbers).
On Saturday the 10th I was in the North Tees Marshes again. Having missed a Garganey at Holme Fleet the Saturday before by getting there too late in the day (it's quite a shy species and this one stayed hidden in the reeds once all the noisy birders were stood around gabbing), I was really glad that it stuck around all week, so I set off while it was still light. I was the first birder there and got a brief view of it (but long enough to get a few photos) before it disappeared into the reeds again. Garganey is a small duck which, unlike most of our ducks, visits the UK in the summer and spends the cold months in Africa. The male is a handsome bird with a dark brown head except for the thick white stripe on the head and neck going back from the eye. The female however, which this was, is much plainer and can be quite hard to separate from a female Eurasian Teal. It does have a more strongly marked head though, which can just be seen on my rather blurry photo, below. This was number 120 for the list.
|Garganey is thought to breed in the Teesside area but they are very inconspicuous |
during the nesting season so I was quite lucky to see this one before it disappeared
off to wherever it decides to nest.
Continuing north from Holme Fleet I visited the birdwatching screens and hides at Greatham Creek, Seal Sands and 'The Long Drag' (yes that is what it is called, and it feels it if you're on foot at the end of a long day's birding). There were several common species of waders on the mud in various places and 4 Red-breasted Mergansers at Seal Sands (the tide was quite high) but nothing new for the list until I was nearly back at the road - at which point 2 Grey Partridges (NMT #121) flew across the path and into a field where I got nice views but no photos. This once very common farmland bird is now on the Red List for Birds of Conservation Concern as its populations has declined severely in recent decades. As its name suggests it has a lot of grey in its plumage but is nonetheless quite pretty with an orange face patch and dark reddish-brown on the belly. On the way home I spent quite a while birding around the Saltholme area and was able to get much better views than I had previously of the two rare ducks that have been lingering here - Green-winged Teal and American Wigeon, and was able to get some usable pictures of the latter. I was chuffed to realise afterwards that I had seen 14 species of duck in one day (if you include Shelduck as a duck - some people put them in a different group), which I think is pretty good going.
|from left - male and female Eurasian Wigeon and male American Wigeon|
|Female Eurasian (left) and male American (right) Wigeon|
After a nice clear day and a warm afternoon, we had a small snowfall that night and the next morning a trip to my local patch (the new Middle Marsh Nature Reserve) was a visit to a winter wonderland - nonetheless, I heard my first Willow Warbler (#122) of the year - newly arrived from Africa. Like the Northern Wheatear that I mention in an earlier blog, the Willow Warbler is a very long distance migrant, with some populations flying from southern Africa to far eastern Russia to breed in the spring, and back again in autumn. This is a small greenish-yellow warbler which is quite hard to distinguish froma Chiffchaff, by sight. The songs, however, are completely different, and the lovely, descending, liquid warble (too many adjectives? 😊) told me that this one was a Willow Warbler. Also of interest that day were three Guillemots and a Harbour Seal giving nice views to anyone who walked round the Middlesbrough Dock basin, and very excitingly for me - the news that two of the local nature-lovers had seen (and even managed to get video footage of) a Water Vole ('Ratty' from The Wind in the Willows) on the beck in Middle Marsh. I knew they were upstream in Berwick Hills and Park End but I didn't think they were this far down the beck corridor. This is another creature which has suffered terrible losses in the UK in recent decades but seems now to be making a slow recovery.
On the 17th, for the 3rd Saturday in a row I went north of the Tees but this time spent the whole day in the Saltholme area, visiting most of the good birding places two or three times and taking the opportunity to linger in some beautiful spots, enjoying the birds and the sunshine. The day started off, when it was only just getting light with the monotonous 'fishing-reel' (or 'bicycle wheel' if you prefer) song of a Grasshopper Warbler across the road from Dorman's Pool. I didn't manage to see this elusive, streaky brown warbler (known by many birders as the 'gropper'), but while I was listening to it, one of the other birders pointed out a Barn Owl hunting a little way behind it. I saw what was almost certainly the same bird a couple more times, including carrying a prey item (probably a vole and probably back to its nest). The two blurry photos below were the best could manage, I'm afraid. These two species were #123 & 124 for my non-motorised bird list.
The last new NMT bird for the day was Ruff - a medium sized wader which gets its name from the flamboyant head and neck feathers of the breeding males. There was a small group right on the other side of one of the Saltholme pools, shimmering in the heat haze. There had been reports of a Yellow Wagtail (another newly arrived migrant) in the same area but I was unable to find it.
In the days since then I have been out in the field a lot with work, including several visits to my local patch - the new Middle Marsh Nature Reserve in North Ormesby. Although I haven't seen any more new NMT birds I have added two species to the list for the Middle Marsh area - Gadwall (a pair on the beck while I was doing a Facebook live broadcast last Sunday) and a Common Sandpiper, which I saw while showing two visiting ecologists round the site for the first time. I think this brings the bird-list for the site to 64 species.
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