Sunday, 28 June 2009

Pirates, Birds, Botany and Bulls!

Field Cranesbill or possibly the hybrid Purple Cranesbill

Red Campion

Hedge Woundwort

27th June. The morning was damp and chilly so it wasn’t a day for standing at a stall representing the Local Group at Blyth Harbour Day, which is what I did! I didn’t warm up until I went for my fish and chip lunch! Even the arrival of the legend Malcolm McDonald (whose that asking who he is? Malcolm won’t like that!) Didn’t seem to raise the temperature very much and to make matters worse there were few birds to be seen out at sea. I did manage to find a solitary Eider Duck, a Fulmar and a few Cormorants amongst the gulls. Linnets too were much in evidence on the cliff top.

I wanted to time a walk I’m planning to lead at Holywell in October so made that my reason for early departure and I got dropped of in Holywell village so as to do my circular walk which I reckoned will take about 4 hours with lunch stop. I’d left before even seeing Punch and Judy which I had thought had been ruled out as politically in-correct these days. Perhaps no one in Seaton Sluice has realised this as yet. Anyway I had been looking forward to my first ‘that’s the way to do it’ since childhood so was disappointed to have missed it.

Holywell Village is a great place for House Martins and today was no exception. I wouldn’t mind living there to tell the truth as it has such easy access to some good birding areas. The pond was quiet although there was a good number of Grey Herons about today and the most I’ve seen here for sometime. The feeding station was doing no business at all. I found only Little Grebe, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Moorhen, Coot, Black Headed Gull, Herring Gull and Great Black Backed Gull on the water. Sedge Warbler song was heard. Mute Swan and a couple of Lapwing were at the east end of the pond. The grasses on the path along to the old track seemed almost as tall as me and at this point I heard Willow Warbler. Once on the track I found quite a bit of Hedge Woundwort Stachys sylvatica.

Once into the dene the greyness of the sky ensured that it was quite dark in there. Bird life seen was scarce with only the likes of Wood Pigeon, Blackbird, Wren, Robin and tits. I came across a poster across the stream which said ‘pieces of eight’. This was one of several strange objects I was to come across. There were numbers of drawings of pirates attached to trees and a pair of I assume pirate wellington boots standing in mid stream, without a pirate in them! I then came across a couple sitting on one of the benches next to a life sized stuffed pirate. They just smiled and said ‘don’t ask’. I couldn’t resist asking if the said stuffed pirate was their son. I thought afterwards they probably thought I was being extremely cheeky! ;-) As I was standing on the stepping stones a living adult pirate came to cross the stream. He was most polite, but in any event I stepped aside immediately as there was no way I was going to block the path of a guy carrying a cutlass on his back! By now I began to come across numerous small pirates with their carers, some of whom were also pirates and I then guessed what was happening. Anyway I was told by a friend of Holywell dene that he had seen a Dipper on the stream that morning. It was the first he had seen in two years and I know I haven’t seen Dipper there for about that length of time. Chiffchaff and Blackcap were singing. Meadow Cranesbill Geranium pratense were numeous at this point. At least I think that is what they were, They were growing on the edges of the woodland and I'm wondering if they are some kind of hybrid, possibly Purple Cranesbill.

I now took the path up to the farmland to do the return route. It certainly puts a very different view upon things. I soon found Pheasant, corvids, Greenfinch and Goldfinch and there was a good deal of Skylark song. Some of the Red Campion Silene dioica here was just coming into flower and I also found Bittersweet (aka Woody Nightshade) Solanum dulcamara. The latter plant was unknown to me until around a year or two ago when I came across it growing at the side of the reserve hide. I stumbled across it really, and had looked at it through my binoculars and thought it to be a really interesting plant. I later learnt that it is related to Deadly Nightshade , but that it lacks this dangerous plants poison. I have now found it a few times in the hedges around this particular area. Flocks of Linnet lifted as I pased.

I found three Whitethroats along by the bridleway and my only butterfly of the sunless day, a Painted Lady. A guy who I think may have been the farmer passed me by with his dogs and didn’t acknowledge my presence. I had found the pirates in the dene a lot friendlier. Even the stuffed one was smiling. Anyway as I got closer to the end of the bridleway I found somewhat to my horror that there were more, what appeared to be, unfriendly creatures in the shape of two ginormous bulls. Having recently read about Alan being chased by a bullock I was on my guard. These weren’t little bullocks though, they were massive bulls and I confirmed this through my bins! I initially thought they must be enclosed in some way, but no, they crossed onto the path in front of me. I beat a hasty retreat! I will do a lot for my passion of birding, but I draw the line at taking on two bulls which looked to me keen for a chase! Fortunately I soon joined another path which took me back to the old track. Whilst this has a funny side I think it also has a far more serious side to it. These were fully grown bulls and there was not a sign anywhere to say that they were there. To my mind they seem to have been put there deliberately to keep people off what is a public right of way and no one will convince me that any bull is a safe bull! There could have been youngsters on that bridleway!
Once back to the pond I found the Canada Geese with young and a flock of Curlew flew over head to end what had been to say the least an interesting and eventful walk. Pirates, Birds, Butterfly, Bulls and Malcolm McDonald all in one day is a bit too much to take.

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