Sunday, 4 December 2011


Today saw the first drops of snow for this season. It wasnt much, and it didnt last, but it was a sure sign that winter is undoubtedly here! At various times we also had rain, hail and icy cold gales, none of which were ideal for the little challenge I had set myself for the day! I decided to try and see 50 species of birds in 5 hours, not an easy task but still very possible. I started the challenge at Roker Pier, but unfortunately the weather was atrocious. I sat in the car for 20 minutes until the rain eased enough for me to get out. All I got were a couple of species of Gulls and a handful of Turnstones, not the greatest of starts. I then went to Whitburn Steel where I was bound to get lots of Waders. Which would have been the case, except that the tide was right in and I saw next to nothing! Off next to Whitburn Coastal Park, and frankly things didnt get much better. The weather was bleak and the birds were missing. I only picked up 4 new species here which is incredibly poor. I'd gotten off to a terrible start, and the next stop didnt change things in any way, as I failed to find the Med Gull that is usually loafing around Marsden car park. A quick look on Marsden Rock produced a couple of Shags and also a Red Throated Diver offshore. The first couple of hours had only produced 22 species, I'd have to work really hard to get anywhere near the 50 mark in the last couple of hours. Thankfully, things started to improve at the next stop. Marine Park got me 7 new birds, including Common Gulls and Pochards, but the highlight was the stunning drake Mandarin Duck (above picture) that has taken up residence in the park. I also had a good old natter with Dougie who had popped in to get a picture of the star bird. Now on 29 species I headed to Marsden Quarry to hopefully pick up number 30. Thankfully the Little Owl was in its usual place, and I got a bonus of a Sparrowhawk flying overhead. I knew the next place would significantly boost my total up, but I didnt expect it to go up quite as much as it did! Boldon Flats was easily the site of the day. The feeders got me off to a good start, with 4 new species, including Tree Sparrows and Yellowhammers. But it was the pond itself that really did the business. There were tonnes of wildfowl, the highlight being the White Fronted Geese that had been there all week. I bumped into Steve and showed him the Greenland White Front through my scope, it was a species he had never seen before so he was delighted. A flock of Stock Dove brought the total of new birds to a fabulous 14 species, meaning I left the Flats on 45 species! I was tantalisingly close, and I only had one more site to visit. And so, I arrived at the Academy Pools needing 5 species to reach the target. I immediately got a Collared Dove in the first tree, a good start. At the ponds I saw a few Coots, and then a Little Grebe. That was 48 species. I was almost there. On the final pond I got a totally unexpected pair of Goldeneye, an excellent find. But alas, that pair of Goldeneye were the last new birds for the day. I had gotten so, so close, but I ended the day on 49 species, just 1 species short. But what a superb day!

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