Plenty to report on from the home county over recent days, some localized twitching throwing up a good array of birds on Friday. First up a gander up the coast with the lovely Natalie Welden (@NatalieACWelden) who had traveled up from York in an effort to catch up with the reported Black Scoter at Stag Rocks. Not long after arriving at Stag we managed to pick out a prime candidate feeding away from the main Common Scoter flock in a small group of three. This immediately lead to a lot of excited flapping as we scoured the Collins app in an effort to confirm whether or not this was indeed the American vagrant. For a good half we toyed with the idea, finally deciding it was indeed “the duck” with a little help from a birder who had been watching the individual for most of the morning. This said, we probably should have paid more attention as today photos of the bird revealed that it was in fact an aberrant Common Scoter, all be it one with a rather impressive bill! – There’s a life lesson in there somewhere I guess, don’t jump to conclusions and don’t take the word of others as law. Given our poor scopes and non-existent experience with Black Scoter however I do not feel too bad!
Alongside the aforementioned dodgy duck, Stag Rock held a good array of other interesting species. A drake Velvet Scoter heading North only my third record of the year and a total of 14 Long-Tailed Duck putting on a good show relatively close to shore. Two Red-Throated Diver were also seen here as were a number of Shag and Guillemot while a scattering of Fulmar, Kittiwake and 50 Common Scoter comprised the best of the rest. Natalie also had a presumed Little Auk heading North far out though I was rather slow off the mark on this occasion and failed to pick it up. A brief pitt-stop at Howick later produced nice views of a Brambling amid a large flock of Chaffinch and Linnet while a Merlin was noted hunting the roadside fields nearby.
Not counting the Scoter, our little adventure up the coast did however produce two lifers in the form of both Cou’s Arctic Redpoll and Mealy Redpoll at Birling Carrs, Warkworth. Having dipped these on a number of occasions now it was nice to finally be able to catch up with the flock, which unlike my last visit, had positioned itself within ideal viewing range. Picking through the chattering mass of Lesser Redpoll a larger, pale bird stood out like a sore thumb as the they perched on a nearby fence. Mealy, though this almost went down as Arctic until of course the true Arctic Redpoll emerged from the game crop. I had expected picking out the bird to be somewhat difficult but this individual stood out like a beacon, considerably paler than even the Mealy that conveniently sat alongside it preening for a short while. Victory, though with all Redpoll species likely to be lumped together by the forces that be, this may be somewhat short lived.
Nabbing Whooper Swan at Warkworth and after a brief stop at Hauxley where a scan through a flock of 650+ Pink-Footed Geese failed to produce anything other than two Greylag Geese we next found ourselves at Cresswell in the hope of ‘year ticking’ the long-staying Long-Billed Dowitcher. Alas this was not to be however though a Marsh Harrier put on a fine show as it proceeded to catch, kill and pluck an unlucky Teal on the far shore. Unable to take off with its impressive catch the Harrier simply dragged the corpse around for a few minutes before relinquishing it to a pair of Carrion Crows. Eye’s bigger than its belly perhaps? Anyways, a Water Rail at Cresswell provided a rather belated year tick while the sand bar held 11 Snipe, a few hundred Lapwing and a lone Curlew. Picking through the mass of ducks here proved useless, Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck and, of course, Mallard all to be seen while c1000 Pink-Footed Geese dropped into a distant field. Departing the hide, 15 Tree Sparrow showed characteristically well in the hedgerow, this time in the company of 4 superb Yellowhammer and a scattering of Greenfinch and other common goodies.
Our final stop, QEII Country Park failed to produce the hoped for Caspian or Iceland Gulls, the best to be seen comprising a rather pale Herring Gull and a pair of showy Goldeneye. I did however manage to life tick David Dinsley (@NatureNorthEast) who helped kill the tedium of scouring the gull flock. All in all, not a bad day! The Redpoll flock was certainly nice to see, as was the ‘Black Scoter’ even if it turned out to be nothing other than an odd Common. A clear indication that I need to invest in better viewing equipment and perhaps a tad more patience!