THE prevailing westerly winds have continued to put a damper on the chances of finding small northern and eastern rarities but some other larger more robust species, mainly seabirds, have brightened up the scene.

White-billed divers used to be an extreme rarity on our coast and were always a huge attraction on the odd occasions when they lingered in estuaries or sheltered bays. Now a handful occur annually, usually simply moving offshore, and thanks to dedicated sea-watchers word gets out quickly, either by mobile phone or instant social media

Last Saturday was a case in point as one of these superb Arctic birds flew northwards off Whitburn. Shortly afterwards it was also logged as it passed St Mary’s Island. It may then have turned around as there was a sighting of a white-billed diver going south off Cullercoats a few minutes later.

Other rare seabirds have also been seen. Another Arctic species, a probable female king eider, went north off Hartlepool Headland while from the opposite direction, the Mediterranean, a Balearic shearwater was off Whitburn. Two American ducks were seen in north Northumberland. A drake surf scoter went northwards at Holy Island while a couple of miles away a black scoter was with the regular flock of common scoters off Cocklawburn. As a drake has been present in the same area for the past three winters, I think it’s safe to assume that this is a returning individual.

The big movements of geese I featured last week have continued. One of the largest flocks reported involved around 1,000 pink-feet over Redcar. Further north, at least 1,000 others already seemed settled in their regular wintering area at Druridge Bay.

Bee-eaters, the brightest and most colourful of all European species, always bring a touch of the Mediterranean when they make one of their rare appearances. This week was no exception with an obligingly showy juvenile at Haltwhistle in west Northumberland. It was first seen and photographed in a village garden last Wednesday but it was the weekend before word spread. It was still showing well at the time of writing late on Tuesday.

The sight of a bee-eater will revive memories for many Durham birders of that wonderful summer of 2002 when, totally unexpectedly, a pair of bee-eaters settled down to nest at Bishop Middleham quarry, their first and only breeding record for the north east. A few years ago another pair bred in a sand quarry near Brampton.

The only small rarity of note was a red-flanked bluetail to the south of the region at Spurn.