Cleveland: Autumn on the East Coast

The East Coast is the place to be in Britain during the autumn, a whiff of easterly winds can bring in anything a large movement of Song Thrush, Fieldfare and Redwing right up to anything like a Pallas’s Grasshopper Warbler, Pallid Harrier or everyone’s favorite and most iconic autumn bird – Yellow-browed Warbler. Now being based in Carlisle for the next 4 years, studying Zoology at the University of Cumbria, the East Coast is closer to me than it ever has been before. Which given that train prices from Carlisle to Hartlepool can be as little as £19, it is also more economically viable for me to make regular visits.

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1st winter Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis maclarius)

The seaside town of Hartlepool, County Durham is one those iconic places on the East Coast which when the cards are played right can be the place to be: Western Orphean Warbler White-throated Robin…both Hartlepool. Given the rich ornithological heritage and that I was looking for a place to spend the day, why not? £19 and two hours later I arrived on site forgetting about the 60mph winds which meant that everything was deep in cover, but still managed to find a Yellow-browed Warbler and Red-breasted Flycatcher amongest a large, loose assorted tit flock at the bottom of Viscount lane which kicked the day off to a brilliant start.

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1st winter Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius)

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1st winter Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius); note the white bar on the upper wing only extends just over the secondaries and doesn’t connect with the mantle unlike in Common Sandpiper

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1st winter Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius)

Following the first few eastern gems, it was off for a sea watch off the ‘Jewish Cemetery’ which in 45 minute period was highlighted by Eurasian Teal (202), Common Scoter (22), Red-throated Diver (3) and Grey Partridge (3). Totals can be found via eBird Checklist. Afterwards we headed into the cemetery to attempt to see the pair of Yellow-browed Warblers which had been reported several minutes after the sea watch concluded. Both birds were still present on arrival, one calling with the second showing intimately with a pair of Eurasian Blue Tit, but the howling winds and the rain increasing its power was preventing record shots. At this point I checked BirdGuides for news when a probable Spotted Sandpiper had been ‘spotted’ down the road at Marske Beach, already in the area and nothing being seen but Yellow-browed Warblers and a Red-breasted Flycatcher, which both had moved on from Viscount lane on return, it was game.

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1st winter Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius)

Wrong trains, late trains and missed trains, along with a throat and eye infection…it was all happening on route to the sandy but with the last two hours of daylight left the twitch was a tick. The few other observers and I on site had the bird mid-way along the shore hugging a small group of rocks for shelter before belting it up the beach to shelter against the sand dunes where for the next half hour everyone was rewarded with MEGA with of this yank. Even when the bird was originally 15 meters away you could make out some of the key features that aged and identified the bird as a Spotted, rather than Common Sandpiper.

Identification & Ageing of 1st winter (1cy) Spotted Sandpiper:

  • Uniform brown upper-parts.
  • Uniform brown wing-coverts have dark sub terminal bars flanked by buff bars.
  • Tertials are uniform brown, barred only at the tip that lack edge-spotting as seen in juvenile Common Sandpiper.
  • General ‘fresh’ appearance.
  • Short tail.
  • Bill washed out pink, dark tip.
  • Adult would show spotting and worn tertials.
  • White bar on upper wing does not extend to the mantle.
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Juvenile Common Sandpiper (Actitis hypoleucos)

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1st winter Spotted Sandpiper (Actitis macularius)

Having missed out on the 1st winter individual that spent several weeks in Nottinghamshire and only obtained distant views of Spotted Sandpiper in juvenile plumage whilst in the states. It is safe to say this was a highly education bird to say to least, espically given the range of views from short to long distance and back-lit to front-lit which you do not often witness in Britain.

Thanks for reading,


PS. In other news, the totals from eBird ‘Global Big Day’ are in and this plastic scouser somehow managed to get the highest UK list! October Big Day Results




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