18th Feb. The Grey Heron is among a small number of bird species that helped hook me into becoming a birder many years ago. It was during a summer holiday in the lake District that I watched a small number of these birds for several hours as they sought food in a beck between rests, with Fleetwith Pike to the north and the fell known as the Haystacks to the south. Incidentally, Alfred Wainwright’s ashes are scattered on the top of Haystacks and my hat may still be there, one I left behind accidently in the 1970s. I’ve since always found herons of any species interesting and usually attractive, so it was very rewarding when we found an unexpected Heronry on our travels yesterday. We certainly weren’t aware of the presence of a heronry so wonder if it is just being established.
Our walk began with the sighting of the day in the fields west of Holywell Pond. I estimated that perhaps there was a flock of between 400/500 Pink-Footed Geese, although having moved further along the footpath and found that behind the slope in the field the flock became denser, I revised my estimate upwards. There were scattered numbers of Greylag and Canada Geese among the flock, but best of all two European White-Fronted Geese which we saw well. Skeins of geese were to be heard or seen at stages throughout the walk today. The presence of Wigeon on the pond was quickly giving away by their whistling calls. Also present were Mallard, Teal, Tufted Duck, Pochard and Little Grebe. Water Rail was heard and the feeders at the members hide were busy with Tree Sparrows and a couple of Reed Bunting along with tit species. A pair of Canada Geese seemed determined to protect their space and acted to try and remove another pair which landed without much success. By the time we were down to the public hide there was a large flock of Canada Geese on the water along with a White-Fronted Goose, one of the two we had seen in the field we assumed, but could not be certain.
Sam heard Yellowhammer as we walked down to the dene but there wasn’t much else about the hedges. By the time we had settle din place in the dene on the look out for Dipper it felt and sounded like spring was in the air and it appeared that the area was in between the deadness of winter and new growth beginning to mark the new season. It felt pleasantly mild following the cold days that had gone previously and there was much calling and song from the birds, most notably Song Thrush, Nuthatch and the varied calls of Great Tits. I remembered back a few years to when we had stood in this area and Sam had recorded bird songs, which he tells me he still has. One of the real pleasures I think is to stand or sit and let the birds come to you, there is far too much chasing after species in the modern birding scene in my opinion. It wasn’t long before we had two Dippers fly up stream whilst in song. They were quickly followed by another Dipper. We wondered if two pairs were having a territorial dispute. We waited for at least one of the birds to reappear, but it never did, and we were unable to find a fourth bird which would have confirm two pairs were active, but perhaps that bird could have been at the nest site. We know that it is now usual to have two breeding pairs in the dene. It’s good that they cope with the constant disturbance.
The dene didn’t provide large numbers of species but by the time we had reached Seaton Sluice Bullfinches had provided some interest with calls and tentative attempts at beginning song. From my observation Bullfinch seems to be doing ok in this region at present. Nuthatch was seen hammering as if at an anvil and there were the usual large numbers of Robin, a Coal Tit among tit species, as well as the Long -Tailed Tits at the feeders. It appears that friends of the dene have been busy with clearing ponds and forming a new one on the approach to Seaton Sluice, and a very good job they have done. This should prove to be a very good area for dragonflies once there is some growth. Redshank were found before reaching the harbour.
Our only disappointment had been the realisation that the Fish and Chip restaurant was closed on a Sunday now. Not to be beaten we went to the café for a toastie and piece of cake.
The tide was higher than I had expected and there was very little in the way of passage over the sea. Waders seen at Seaton Sluice were Oystercatchers, Turnstone and Purple Sandpipers. We walked along to St Mary’s Island picking up Stonechat along the way and stopping at the cliff edge to watch several Fulmar. Lapwings and Curlews were in the fields. Once at the wetland it seemed that there were as many ponies on the sites as there were birds. I had a laugh when one anxious dad told his small son to be quite so as not to disturb the birds. I felt like saying ‘oh, it’s OK mate, there aren’t any birds here to disturb’.
A Kestrel hovered before flying along the low cliff edge and as we made off a female Sparrowhawk flew low over the field and perched for a time on the fence. Once disturbed by passers- by, it flew off and landed some distance away. It ended our day very nicely.
We got a taxi home and had an interesting conversation with the driver about garden birds, the differences between Dartmoor and Exmoor Ponies (her brother had apparently been bitten in the stomach by a Dartmoor Pony…oooch) and the shambles North Tyneside Council are making to the green land that remains in the county. Our friendly taxi driver seemed to know much about Dartmoor and its wildlife and I’m wondering if she would act as a guide.