Friday, 10 April 2009

Parks and Dene

Bridge over Ouseburn
Wood Anemone

4th Apr. Today I was to lead a walk in the parks near the centre of Newcastle. Thankfully after much planning the threatened rain did not materialise and 30 participants arrived, surpassing my expectations by some distance. The walk was to focus upon the historical aspects of the area as well as the birds and other natural elements. Anyway it was good to have such a group of interested and knowledgeable people of all ages (the youngest being a lad around the age of 11) with me and this all added to my enjoyment of the day.

As we waited at the park gates which had been the agreed meeting point, Chiffchaff, Wren, Blackbird, Chaffinch and Grenfinch song predominated. Quite early into the walk we had excellent views of a busy male Great Spotted Woodpecker and Nuthatch. Two displaying Sparrowhawk flew high above us adding some of the unexpected. Mistle Thrush was found also. The infamous ‘Sycamore shoe tree’ brought a mixture of comments, but I think I agree with what seemed to be the majority view that adding shoes to other trees to make it more of a ‘shoe street’ is unsightly and takes something away from the original tree. We enjoyed sightings of the more common woodland birds as well as the historical structures in the area before walking down to the bridge over the Ouseburn for what was to be the first of many watches for Kingfisher. We also admired the deeply grooved bark of what is an Ash tree of some good age. No Kingfisher, but there was the sighting of our first of several pairs of Grey Wagtail, and Song Thrushes which had come down to bathe in the burn. Lesser Celandine Ranunculus ficaria grew on the banks of the burn. Before we reached Jesmond Dene we found a rather attractive area of Wood Anemones Anemone nemorosa. The Wild Garlic Allium ursinum was still not yet in flower.

Another stop was made to give some time for a Kingfisher and Dipper watch, but he best view we had was of a very large Rat on the side of the burn. If anyone had plans of dipping their feet in the burn I think such ides had been firmly knocked on the head. Once into the ‘Dene’ proper we were amongst an area of exotic trees and shrubs, the gardens laid out for Lord Armstrong in the mid 19th century. This is an extremely interesting area to wander through, still with remains of some of the industrial use this area has been put to use for in the past and despite the exotic nature of the planting there was still a good amount of birdlife to find.

Birds found included Mallard, Moorhen, Herring Gull, Wood Pigeon, Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Mistle Thrush, Blackbird, Chiffchaff and Chaffinch. It was interesting to watch a very busy Stock Dove flying back and forth across the burn bringing nesting material to a nest just below us on the bank of the burn. Another pair of Grey Wagtails were found at there nest amongst the ivy on one of the picturesque bridges. In fact we saw at least 4 pairs of Grey Wagtails today.

We took a short break for lunch at the pavilion near the waterfall and old mill and everyone had time to admire these and the rather grand trees at hand which included Silver Birch, London Plane, Yew and Spanish (Sweet) Chestnut. I have read that the spiralling groves in the bark of the Spanish Chestnut (thought to be introduced by the Romans) may have gained its name because the groves resemble the twisting skirts of flamenco dancers. A nice story, but one I think unlikely to be true.

As we carried on moving further through the dene we found Treecreeper and another Nuthatch, both giving good views. The highlight of my day was watching our youngest participant, who had told me very politely at the start of the walk that he wasn’t interested in birds, getting quite excited whilst watching these birds. I must admit the Nuthatch in particular was one of the birds that excited me even before I was so keen on bird watching. It led me to take a keener interest, so let’s hope it has the same effect upon this young person. We found small patches of Spring Squill Scilla verna and Colstfoot Tussilago farfara
We returned via the now disused sandstone quarry where once very high grade Sandstone was found and shipped around the world in the shape of grindstones. All the time we kept an eye open for those elusive Kingfishers and Dippers but with no luck. It was a successful day in all other respects and once again shows that you don’t have to travel far to enjoy nature. I celebrated by buying ‘me’ self an ice cream cornet!

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