Crowning Glory

I haven't caught up with the much-improved Autumn Watch yet following yesterday's birding and intellectual exploits but if Chris Packham was rubbing his thighs at the thought of a Red-flanked Bluetail, then I shudder to think how he coped with the news of the Eastern Crowned Warbler at South Shields. What a cracking bird!

My phone had been on charge when I checked it late on Friday evening - Bernie could hear the expletives and after a couple of calls we had arranged a car load to travel up to an area that I love to go to, especially in the autumn. John had to be back very early so he'd set off himself and as Billy, Phil and myself made our way over the grassy area behind the coastal cliffs we became ever more excited about the prospect of seeing this bird. Billy had regaled us of the desire of friends in the north east that really wanted to connect with this bird in the UK and it had happened at last. A crowd was assembled at the top of the cliff and in the disused quarry below all staring into the small collection of trees.

Almost immediately someone saw a bird in the top-most branches - it wasn't the bird but it was a fine Yellow-browed Warbler that appeared to us several times throughout the morning, calling on occaision.

It wasn't long before I picked up the Easter Crowned Warbler near the top of one of the sycamores - not quite as mobile as the yellow-browed as it made its steady methodical progress along the branches gleaning insects from under the leaves. I suppose you have to be a birder to appreciate this small greenish thing - really bright supercillium bordered by the dark grey-olive eyestripe and crown, the central crown strip, greyish mantle, green-fringed prinaries, white undersides and yellow undertail coverts. I love phylloscs but this was somthing special - possibly even better than a Pallas' - now that's saying something. It was quite Vireo-like.
Thanks to Bill for a copy of the image he managed to digiscope. We spent about three hours here as the Warblers kept putting in an appearance every 20 minutes together with a couple of Blackcaps and Robins - each time a big smile cam over our faces - a great bird. Anyway, having had our fill, we decided to set off for Hartlepool - an adult Med Gull sat on the Lees by the car as we were about to set off was a very nice addition to the day.

En-route, we changed our minds and decided to go to South Gare as a couple of interesting birds had been around there. This mini-Spurn is a great place for turning up birds in these sort of conditions if you can stand the outpouring from ICI Wilton and the steelworks.

Unfortunately the Lapland Bunting and Shore Lark weren't as obliging as the warbers earlier. A couple of Shags and Mergansers fished in the surf but there wasn't much on the sea. We headed back via the Shrike bushes where I had a pair of Stonechats when Billy called to say he'd seen a pale Lesser Whitethroat. I managed only a couple of brief glimpses of a pale bird in the back of the bushes when it took off to the really dense stuff - I could see it was a sandy colour but that was it. It seemed to come up to our tacking but dive for cover when it got anywhere near us - the one that got away.

The drive back was a bit protracted as we hit a jam on the A19. I was getting a little concerned as I had to be back for a 'Mastermind' quiz at the local Cricket Club at 8:15. Three very long hours later I dived through the door - the first contestant had already been on and my son, Peter, was just about to start his round (and very well he did too!)! Anyway, suffice to say I won the competition - the second crown of the day!


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