Finally a full weekend birding and one and a half lifers to boot.
For the last ten years I've had a bit of an embarrasing hole in my list (one of many) with Pacific Diver despite it being a regular winter visitor-well one returning bird anyway . The identification criteria and separation from the very similar Black Throated Diver took a while to establish and the UK's first (confirmed) bird was inland in Yorkshire ten years ago. Unfortunately that was half way through six months of on-off surgery and I wasn't able to get out and about. Another inland bird in west Wales was a dead cert, so it was frustrating that Colin and I got there a day late. The only other one has been the one in and around Penzance every winter, a long way to go and with no guarantees that the bird would be visible. It has been close to shore but many sightings have been distant and perhaps a bit suspect so we have never even attempted it.
A Black Throated Diver on the lake at Druridge Bay Country Park was re-identified as a Pacific and many went up for it last weekend but I wasn't up for the journey but luckily it lingered through the working week. So it was off at 5am and a 270 mile journey north up the A1 and A19 through the scenic delights of Middlesborough and Newcastle, and misty murky drizzle, arriving at 10am and steady light rain.
Expecting it to be some way out I had packed my 500mm lens and the converters, but it spent most of it's time fishing close in to the bridge on the eastern end. Could have got cracking images with the phone at times. I had also taken my new camera, a Lumix GX8 in order to get video footage and hit a big snag. Mounted on the Nikkor and its effective 1000mm focal length I struggled to get the diver in the viewfinder as it was constantly diving. It was also far too close so I ended up with five second close ups of it's head. Would have been far better with the 300mm lens, and maybe the 135mm would have worked well.
There wasn't much else on the lake though I got a few ducks and gulls to add to my earliest, and a big flock of Siskins in the alders behind us. Bumped into@Beachy71 and had a quick chat-he had failed with the Penzance bird last weekend so was rather happy to see this one so close.
We had a quick wander round the park and up to the sea, but being rather murky only a few Oystercatchers, Eiders and Kittiwakes could be seen.
Beachy went off for the Black Scoter further north while Colin and I headed off south and some gulls on the quay at North Shields. Rather surprised to see so many Eiders on the Tyne so close to shore-certainly better than the normal views off Norfolk and there were plenty of gulls milling around over the fish market and the river. Colin went back to the car to get his camera and moments later a brute of a first winter Glaucous Gull flew past at close range and then spent the next twenty minutes playing cat and mouse behind the market popping up from time to time. The first winter Iceland Gull then appeared in the same area but was rather elusive. A second Glaucous Gull, a slightly smaller individual was also showing from time to time, and occasionally two white wingers could be seen together in the air-not bad considering that some years we don't see any.
Our final destination was the small coastal village of Skinnigrove where a male Eastern Black Redstart had been wintering since November. Most of the people I know went up soon after it arrived and had I been feeling better I would have tried for it as well. Its been faithful to a small section of rocks on the north side of the quay and since it was sort of on the way home we had to see it. Currently a race of Black Redstart the orange belly and lack of white wing panel make it a very distinctive bird and maybe be one day it will merit full species status.
It proved to be rather easy to see, fairly approachable and singing from time to time. Also on the rocks were Rock Pipits-no surprise there and Fulmars were on the cliffs (interesting geology as well with some really contorted strata). The harbour was full of Black Headed Gulls and a scan failed to produce anything of note apart from a couple of Grey Seals.