Far from drab

Continuing my journey from Scotland back to Norfolk I left my overnight stay near Stockton-in-Tees at about 8am. My reason for a stop there was to head a few miles south to the coast at Redcar where a solitary male king eider has been spending the last few weeks offshore. So passing through the industrial landscape of Teesside I drove over to Redcar, which immediately struck me as very similar to Cromer – a Victorian seaside resort. It has a splendid esplanade and I started near the cinema to scan the sea for birds. There were quite a few common eider but no sign of the king eider. However on one of the slipways was a flock of probably about 150 sanderling, with a single dunlin in their midst! They seemed pretty unperturbed by the passing humans.

Sanderlings at Redcar beach – can you spot the single dunlin in the flock?

There were also plenty of turnstones about and a little further along the seafront I came across a flock of about 40 of these birds. I stopped to take a few photos and then realised that the birds weren’t all turnstones: To my great surprise in amongst them were nine purple sandpipers – lovely birds and a really unexpected treat!

A turnstone
Some purple sandpipers in amongst the turnstones at Redcar
A purple sandpiper – this one has been ringed at some point

I think the locals here have seen a lot of birdwatchers over the last few weeks: One couple stopped to chat and ask me if I’d seen the king eider yet. They mentioned that it had often been among a larger flock of common eider a little further south along the esplanade, and so I headed that way. A few other birders had had the same idea, but none that I spoke to had seen the bird yet. After a few hundred yards I got to a point where I could view a flock of eider with the light in the right direction, making it much easier to scan through them properly, and after a few minutes I found the king eider! Once seen the head and neck colours really made it stand out. The two difficulties were that it kept disappearing between the wave troughs and then for about 15 minutes it had a snooze, so the head was hardly visible! But I managed to keep on it with the telescope and when it did wake up and have a preen I got some excellent views. A beautiful bird.

I then headed down to a place near Rotherham in order to see a scaup – a duck similar to tufted ducks. This male bird was easily visible on a small lake at Thrybergh Country Park. It was obviously a popular place with locals for dog walks and general exercise, and also feeding the mute swans, mallards and tufted ducks, but perhaps because of this there were a lot of common birds there and this might well make it feel an attractive stopover for a passing duck such as a scaup. I realised – when I looked through my bird records later – that I haven’t recorded scaup for nearly eight years, and have only seen them on three previous occasions, so I was very pleased to see this one so well.

A male scaup
The male scaup in front of a male tufted duck, for comparison

Also whilst at Thrybergh I heard, and then saw, my fourth new bird species for the day – a chiffchaff singing away in a tree by the lake.

The sound of a chiffchaff – a definite harbinger of spring!

Meanwhile, already back in Norfolk, Brenda writes: “When I got back from Benslow last night I put the moth trap on again and I’m glad I did. There were six moths in total, three Hebrew characters and three clouded drabs. The clouded drab is a variable moth and, in my opinion, far from drab!”

A clouded drab moth

New species for March 17th:
Birds: chiffchaff, scaup, purple sandpiper, king eider
Moths: clouded drab

Birds = 147
Moths = 10
Wildflowers = 24