The Joys of ‘Patch Birding’

by | Nov 26, 2020 | Community, Environment, Voices

This month I am going to share with you some of the joy I get from bird-watching (or birding as we tend to call it these days) on my local patch – a scrap of grassland, wetland and woods along a 1-mile stretch of Ormesby Beck in Middlesbrough – by describing a typical November morning’s birding there.

A Little Egret at showing off its yellow ankle-socks – Photo taken Nov 2020 in North Ormesby, Middlesbrough © Colin Conroy

The first place I visit on arrival is the ‘yellow bridge’ over the beck at the western end of the site. In the past I’ve seen Little Egret (a beautiful white heron with bright yellow feet) and Teal (a small duck) here. Today, however, there’s only a Moorhen and two Mallard to be seen. From here I work my way through the grassland and bushes, adding several species to my list as I go: a Blue Tit scolding me, the low ‘drrrr…drrrr’ of Long-tailed Tits and the ticking of a Robin. Some Herring Gulls drift overhead across a clear blue sky, and a Blackbird flies away noisily.

Then a harsh rasping sound makes me look up and I spot a large pinkish bird landing in a tree. Binoculars up, and I have a lovely view of a Jay – showing the startling blue wing-feathers. As I get closer the Jay exits stage left, carrying an acorn, which it will probably bury for retrieval later, during lean times.

Common Kingfisher, Ormesby Beck, Middlesbrough, Nov 2020. © Colin Conroy

Next stop, a road-bridge near the football stadium, gives me a good view over the beck as well as being an excellent vantage point for counting birds on migration. From here I have seen hundreds of Pink-footed Geese flying south. Today a half-hour vigil yields several common songbirds including a nice male Bullfinch, some Chaffinches and Goldfinches, a Goldcrest and three different Blackcaps. The Blackcap (a kind of warbler) used to be a strictly summer-only bird in the UK but now an increasing number are spending the winter here. Several Carrion Crows sit on the tall pillars of the stadium and Woodpigeons pass back and forth.

Continuing my walk I hear a whistling call and look up to see a flash of electric blue as a Kingfisher disappears out of sight just above the water. This exotic-looking bird has been a regular sight here since September and there are at least two individuals hanging around.

A male Bullfinch by Ormesby Beck, Middlesbrough, Nov 2020. © Colin Conroy

Further down-stream, near the Navigation Inn, a Grey Wagtail shows off its bright yellow undertail feathers. Beginner birders sometimes mistake this species for the scarcer Yellow Wagtail, but that bird is smaller and, in any case, they are all in sub-Saharan Africa by now.

It’s nearly low-tide now as I approach the only patch of estuarine mud on the site, and a cacophony of high-pitched calls alerts me to a Redshank – a bird which nearly always makes its presence known. It bobs around on the mud for a few minutes, showing off its bright orange legs before flying away.

I’m starting to get cold and so head for home. Just after writing down two Redwings and four Blackbirds in my notebook, I get my last new bird of the day – a male Sparrowhawk drifting slowly away at tree-top height. That makes 23 species for the visit – not a huge number but not all that bad for a winter’s day on a small patch of ‘waste-ground’ on the edge of a northern industrial town.


Main photo: Common Kingfisher is one of the most widespread of the 114 species of Kingfisher in the world. This one was photographed in India. © Dave Barlow, used with permission.

For more of Colin’s Ramblings, visit northormesbynaturalist.blogspot.com

 


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