The Joys of Migration

After weeks of measured gains and stop-start bouts of action, it finally feels like migration has reached its peak here in Northumberland. With this week alone bringing many and more enjoyable encounters with the vast majority of our more abundant Summer visitors – sometimes in volume, sometimes alone – as breeding sites dotted around the local woodlands, reedbeds and moorland stretches are occupied once more by an eclectic mix of treasures.

There have been some wonderful birds popping up of late: a surprise Pallas’s Warbler on the Farne Islands and a Hoopoe at Derwent reservoir foremost among them. Delightful birds which, unfortunately, I did not see but not the subject of this post anyhow. With this particular account dedicated to the myriad common species now singing and feeding right across the local area. Each and all providing a welcome respite for work, university and other necessary yet tedious tasks occupying so much of my time of late.


Ring Ouzel at St. Mary’s Island on Tuesday

Following the surge of Blackcaps and hirundines a fortnight ago and, before that, the welcome return of our Chiffchaffs and Willow Warblers, two species appear to have exploded into consciousness of late: Grasshopper Warblers and Whitethroats. With the former now reeling from unkempt patches across the length and breadth of the coast – at Druridge Pools, where a particularly showy individual delighted on Thursday, and elsewhere at Cambois, Sleekburn, Bedlington, St. Mary’s. Likewise, with only two separate Whitethroats observed prior to this week, I have now reached double digits with several of these rather lovely warblers now back amid the brambles growths and hedgerows of my local patch. Singing as they ascend into the air during their enthralling song flights, before plummeting back into cover and in a flurry of scratchy but satisfying calls.

The distinct highlight of the past week came in the from an up close and personal encounter with two cracking Ring Ouzels at St. Mary’s  – a temporary pause in the sites usually incessant human traffic allowing me to enjoy the birds in quiet solitude as they fed amid the tussocks. The pair providing unparalleled views for a species I am more used to seeing as a brown-black blur disappearing into cover immediately after making landfall. Here too, a female Pied Flycatcher fed in the dabbled shade cast by a fresh looking Hawthorn – a pleasure to behold under any circumstance – and, arguably better still given my track record with the species, a Garden Warbler reared its head temporarily from some nearby brambles. The bird going on, later, to mimic the aforementioned flycatcher – snatching a bluebottle mid-flight before returning, once more, to cover.

Following a few encounters last week, Sedge Warblers now bejewel the vast majority of the local scrubby areas. Singing their distinctive, clamourous song from the tops of saplings, from swaying reeds and the browned stems of last years hogweed. Their vocalisations occasionally interspersed by brief bouts of Reed Warbler song at some of our more wild locations – East Chevington and Druridge Pools. While, on a final warbler-centric note, some favourable winds also brought me my first Lesser Whitethroat of year. The charming little bird, a personal favourite of mine, singing from the margins of a nearby playing field; its characteristic sooty face-markings prominent in the fine sunshine.

Bypassing the numerous swallows, sand and house martins now in residence, the inland reaches of the county currently throng with life. A trip to Beacon Hill – a mid-sized stand of mature woodland not far from the town of Longhorsly – throwing up three radiant male Redstarts. The birds voicing their virility from the tops of a few of the sites unfurling Oaks. With these, a Tree Pipit was also observed – briefly perched amid the twigs of Birch – while a second was heard singing later in the day. Its descending notes providing a pleasant reminder of last summer’s field season in Scotland, where this species provided the accompanying soundtrack to many ornithological surveys. A Cuckoo was also heard singing here, my excitement surging with each repetitive call from the frustrating elusive bird.

Spring has sprung in Northumberland and while I am yet to catch up with a few of our late or more secretive migrants – Spotted Flycatcher, Swift and Wood Warbler – I stand content with this weeks haul. The above posting going without mention of the innumerable Whimbrel observed on their Northbound migration and, for that matter, the Common Sandpipers now bobbing along the margins of many nearby rivers. Winter migrants have departed by the large part, though some remain. This week bringing sightings of European White-Fronted Goose and Whooper Swan, and last week, a pair of Redwing – perhaps my latest ever. Largely, however, such species are a bygone memory and the new season has well and truly dawned, much to my own personal delight.

Willow Warbler, Stobswood.

 Willow Warbler


Oh yeah, butterfly numbers are also up…

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