Friday, 28 August 2009

Holywell to St Mary's Island

Holywell Dene
Painted Lady

Small Copper

Sea Aster

Painted Lady and Wall Brown Butterflies

Common Darter

27th Aug. Summer may be reaching an end, but the weather this morning was wonderful, with sun heat and clear blue skies. The only minor point to mar an otherwise peaceful morning was the dog walker whose voice echoed across the fields and reserve at Holywell as she called constantly for her three canine companions, as if to show that she was in complete control of the situation, which in fact was far from the truth. It seemed a bit of a pantomime although it has to be said, the dogs made no noise at all!

The area of Holywell was buzzing with Swallows and House Martins and I managed to count 4 Swifts and 2 Sand Martins over the pond before I moved on. Otherwise things were quiet, if you discount that dog walker. I had noted a female Great Spotted Woodpecker in the village as it climbed a telegraph pole before perching on top. The usual flock of House Sparrows were actively flying from hedge to field and back again and the odd Goldfinch was about. I did give up trying to count the Little Grebe on the pond with well over 20 I would say. Just as I left 6 Canada Geese landed on the pond and a Grey Heron finally put in an appearance and landed behind the island. One solitary Lapwing was amongst the Black Headed Gulls on the mud, and Greater and Lesser Black Backed Gulls flew over the pond. As I walked along to the track leading to the dene I could here the calls of Willow Warbler and one did finally put in an appearance. These calls were to continue most of the morning. I found a pair of Whitethroat in the hedge of the track way, but little else of note.

As I entered the dene I found a Stock Dove flying into the herbage above the culvert and as usual I didn’t see the Kingfisher! I had a very brief sighting of Grey Wagtail on the burn and in two or three places I found large parties of birds, travelling through the dene. The first party must have come across a Tawny Owl deep in the tree cover. I assumed it was being mobbed as it gave out a few calls and the Blackbirds and Wrens gave out long lasting alarm calls. I found a female Blackcap had joined the party of which seemed otherwise to consist of Great, Coal and Blue Tits. With the shafts of sun coming through the tree canopy cover, it made for a picturesque scene.

At the further end of the dene just before arriving at the dipping pond I stopped for a drink. I got my eye on a Spotted Flycatcher and eventually found the pair. I watched them feeding for sometime. This was the highlight of the day as they were joined by Willow Warbler, Linnet and finally my second pair of Whitethroat. I could have sat and watched these birds for a good deal longer but I was hoping to make the fish and chip café earlier than is the norm. My next short stop was at the dipping pond where I found 3 or 4 Common Darter Dragonfly and a Blue-tailed Damselfly. Goldfinch called form the bushes probably well satisfied with their feeding on the nearby thistle patches.

Butterflies had so far been Small White, Large White, countless Wall Brown (they were every where), Painted Lady and 1 Speckled Wood in the dene. I noticed one Wall Brown trying to get amorous with a Painted Lady, but the latter quickly flew off. The salt marsh area was, as is the norm at this time of year, dotted with patches of Sea Aster Aster tripolium which seem to once again have taken a battering from the rain. Then it was time for refreshment and the fish and chips before once again striding out towards St Mary’s Island. I was hoping to find Common Blue Butterflies, but there were none. Last year these were numerous around the area of the cliffs. Although past the peak of their flight period I thought that thee would be some about. However, I was once again accompanied by Wall Browns. Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock and eventually Small Copper Butterflies were found. I decided to risk life and limb and step over the fence on the cliff so as to get a photograph of the Small Copper. Well perhaps I exaggerate slightly, but I did get over the fence!

I’m leading a walk in the area over the weekend so I’m hoping for some decent birds. There weren’t too many around today. I did find 5 Wheatear in the fields near Seaton Sluice where the horses are kept and usually a good spot to check. Waders included Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Ringed Plover, Turnstone, Golden Plover, Redshank and Curlew and terns included Common, Arctic and Sandwich. I’m sure that would be enough to keep the party happy at the weekend as few will be birders as such. Of course there were the Eider Ducks, Fulmar, Cormorants and a Rock Pipit.

Towards the end of my walk I always take a look at the wetland area and inevitably find very little in the way of bird life. Today I found what looked to me an area in decay which seems to me to be in need of some management. The wetland itself seems to be completely overgrown. The viewing areas are untidy and overgrown with nettles, and the signs I saw covered in graffiti. Not a good way to promote Whitley Bay in my opinion and I wasn’t surprised to note that no one else was anyway interested in this area. Doesn’t this area fall within the council’s area of conservation? I don’t like to see areas ‘groomed’ too much and some neglect from the council ‘cutters’ can be a good idea. This area just seemed to be completely neglected and off putting. Perhaps another cut back! Birds seen there = Mute Swan and 2 Lapwings! I’ve decided to miss this area out of my walk at the weekend and tell the party why! A good walk otherwise with 59 species of bird (lower than my usual count on this walk)
I’ve visited St Mary’s Island since childhood and never realised how little I knew about it and its history until I have recently done a little background reading. I had spoken to an elderly lady in the fish and chip shop who had told me she gets very sad to think that the areas history is forgotten. I hadn’t realised that the hide on the island had been built in 1959 and used in some way for degaussing ships to protect them from mines laid during World War 11. To tell you the truth I didn’t know what degaussing meant until I looked it up!

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