Early September Warblers

This week there has been a change. Probably, I have had a chance to spend more time in NZ26 or perhaps I have decided that the third part of the challenge remains unfulfilled.
• We have a league table with me firmly at the bottom
• I have managed to cover most of the tetrads in most of the months and enter 5000+ records on BirdTrack
• But there is still that rarity to find.

One sound that reminded me of this search is the contact call of Blue Tits. At this time of year as pairs and groups flick through trees they keep in touch with a high pitched call like two tiny pieces of metal being struck together. They do it during the winter as well but this week with the misty mornings, the east wind and the contact calls let you know that there is something out there. There are several places in Tetrad B that show promise so before work I do the Durham Wildlife Trust field South of Scotswood Bridge and after work the scrubby area east of Costco.
Whilst the field has started to see an increase in Goldfinches, it’s the scrubby area that has been exciting. In Spring I reported the fact that all the trees on the site had been felled and shredded. The summer has pushed up waist-high to chest-high regrowth of birch, willow and poplar. By midweek this held an active tit/warbler flock picking through the left overs of another flying ant day. Generally forming a nomadic slow moving group this tended to hide the hyperactivity as the Chiffchaffs chased each other past the more thoughtful Willow Warblers. Not rare but exciting for what was an empty space after the deforestation. An approachable Lesser Redpoll was the first test of Martin Garner’s new challenge book, the primer for the white ones I will find in the next few months.

Chiffchaffs have generally been very vocal this week and gave me the idea that I still had a chance for a full sweep of tetrads if I could find one in Blakelaw. It is a pretty in-hospitable tetrad for its 26 species and there is really only one place to look for passerines -the hedge that runs the eastern boundary of the A1. I did pick up two new species here –Goldcrest and Coal Tit, but the Chiffchaff had to wait until I reached the Northumbria Police complex across the bridge where one was singing. I have not been for three months and the grassy area to the South of here is being redeveloped by KeepMoat, so the Meadow Pipit I got in the spring was probably the last for that site.

The warbler challenge (one in each tetrad) was a minor in year spur to ensure coverage of each tetrad. I did this quickly in April with a Willow Warbler singing in Blakelaw. Now though as the summer finally runs through my fingers it might be useful to reflect on what my warbler figures look like:

Tetrad numbers
Chiffchaff            25
Blackcap              18
Willow Warbler 15
Whitethroat        10
Garden Warbler   4
Sedge warbler        2
Gropper                  2
Reed Warbler        2
Lesser Whitethroat 1

Species per Tetrad
x6 f, j, p
x5 a; g; q; w; z
x4 b
x3 e; k; m; s; t;
x2 d; h; l; n; r; u; v; x; y
x1 c; i

As for the rarity it will have to wait but a Whinchat on town Moor at least got me a new NZ26 tick #116. The true star of the week was outside the square and a could not resist twitch to see the 1St summer male Red-Footed Falcon north of Cresswell. What a truly fabulous bird -part hovering kestrel part, mammal as it chased insects through the grass before returning to the fence line to eat and search again. After an hour it moved closer to the watchers by sitting on the overhead wires by the road where we all stood. With high powered optics there was no need for everyone to move towards it and it was inevitable that a photographer was going to get too close to the ‘chagrin’ of those late arrivals.

It had spent from early morning to late afternoon away from the site and before it returned there was the usually birder banter. One thing that surprised me was the complaints about the lack of waders in Northumberland. This was a repetitive theme and getting a bit boring. Whilst NZ26 has not had the Black-winged Pratincole or Pect.Sands. of Northumberland the last 8 weeks by the Tyne have been great for watching waders. OK limited numbers but close up excitement, especially this week with nine Black-tailed Godwits arguing amongst themselves on Timber Beach.

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Want scarce? Just add 30 miles.

Like many birders this week I left my regular haunts and tripped up to Stanhope.  Unlike others I did not get to see a White-tailed Eagle in England.  However, the supporting cast of Little Owl, Merlin, Ring Ouzel, Wheatear, waders, Nuthatch calling from the wood near Bollihope Quarry were fabulous.  However, I am fairly certain for all the Meadow Pipits that were there I did not really pay them a great deal of attention.  I am fairly certain I was not alone as I heard no one mention they had seen one.  Perhaps that’s why when we start looking at an odd single bird on the coast in Spring or Autumn there are a number of plumage details that will not have been noticed before.

They should not cause any confusion because we should have seen these so often that even a silent bird should be easy.  Though if that were true there would not be a need to publish articles helping disentangle Tree Pipits and Meadow Pipits.

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However, trundle 30 miles up the road and a Meadow Pipit on the grass near the Police Station in Blakelaw to me was a good bird.  I looked at it and gave it the attention a bit of attention.  Perhaps not a surprise in such a large grassy area as I later found them in two of the three tetrads that cover the Town Moor.  I spent a lot more time watching them as like I said earlier in my head I do not look suspicious, but outside the Cop Shop could draw attention to a person.

Blakelaw -tetrad d is always going to be a challenge.  After three visits this Meadow Pipit took me up to 24 species.  It has got a great population of House Sparrows, but the only real scrub runs parallel to the A1.  Its not all native planting and the noise makes hearing bird song there difficult, but I am determined not to give up on this square.

And in the first week this year when I did not add any new species, it has all been about adding species on the list to new tetrads.

Four species have been added to the list of ‘Seen in all 25 tetrads’ -Blackbird; Robin; Wren; and Lesser Black-backed Gull.  And I only need three more tetrads for House Sparrow -K; S and Z.  I got two colonies in Newcastle City Centre during the week one by ‘The World Famous’ Trent House, which probably explains why it is so world famous.

I also added a new challenge to the existing two of:

As many species in NZ26 as possible.

As many species per tetrad as possible.

The third one being a warbler in every tetrad.  Five Chiffchaff tetrads is a good start, but Blakelaw may be a tetrad to far.  Go check it out and let me know.