26th Feb. Well the BBC home page weather forecast said heavy rain so I assumed the morning shower would soon fade away. I was wrong, and on this occasion the BBC was correct! If I had known would I have cancelled plans to do my Holywell walk? Probably not, as I had made arrangements with a mate to do the walk and I think he’s as passionate a birder, or perhaps as mad as me! Shelduck seemed to be the only birds on or near the Beehive Flash as we passed and as we walked towards St Mary’s Island, I had a feeling that the rain was here to stay. As we crossed from the cemetery Oystercatchers, Lapwings, Golden Plovers and Starlings were found on the golf- course and fields to the north. As we walked to the island the winds became stronger and the sea was raging. We were doing the walk back to front (I usually begin at Holywell) as I had thought the incoming tide would bring in plenty of waders. In the event many waders appeared to have their heads down and in the gales and rain where not easy to find. We did find plenty of Redshank and Curlew, and as we walked across to the island we found small flocks of Turnstone and a flock of c40 Knot which were at time very close to us on the causeway. We found several Rock Pipits, but no sign of a Water Pipit. Today was not really the day to be standing searching for the latter. At this point I did think the rain was going to ease, but it never did.
Sea watching was a non starter and in fact the sea looked almost deserted of birdlife with even gull numbers being few. We did find three Goldeneye and a couple of Eider Duck braving the waves. Cormorants and gulls were the only other sightings. The wetland held a number of Wigeon, fewer Teal and Moorhen.
The walk along the cliffs in the direction of Seaton Sluice was…..well, very wet, cold and windy! However Tom and I both got a year tick with Fulmar, and there were numbers about as they seemed to be one bird not put off flying in the conditions. We still couldn’t find anything on the sea and at this point a strong gust of wind took us by surprise. As we stepped back I managed to step into a deep hole in the cliff and painted a pretty picture when my left leg vanished! I could have broken my leg if my youth and fitness had not saved me! (Shut up!). I’m still having flash backs of this traumatic incident that could have seen me falling through the cliff onto rocks below and missing my fish and chip lunch, but I best not get too dramatic. We gave up any idea of a sea watch at the point at Seaton Sluice and made for our chips, and despite looking like drown rats, we enjoyed them. A guy we got speaking to in the café, I think thought us mad for doing the walk we had just done, and even madder when I told him we were now walking on to Holywell.
At least once down by the saltmarsh and into the dene we were out of the wind, but not the rain. We quickly sighted a Grey Wagtail and further up the burn a Little Grebe, dived and took small flights. There was a large flock of Chaffinch, Goldfinch and Greenfinch and a few tits in the area just before we reached the dipping pond. Now, when we had arranged the trip I had said to Tom that he might bring me luck in the form of a Kingfisher during the walk. I had yet to see one on my regular walk through the dene. I was explaining that a certain area is good for dragonflies in summer when what should we see, but a Kingfisher! It hung around long enough to give a decent sighting. A miracle in deed, and a just reward for our braving of such conditions. A Grey Heron and two Canada Geese also flew overhead.
As we negotiated some very muddy pathways, I heard my first drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker of the year and a Kestrel flew through the trees before perching in front of us on the other side of the burn. Much of the birdlife was being drawn to the feeders along the pathways, although many of the feeders were empty. Many Robins, Dunnock, Great Tit, Coal Tit and Blue Tit. Wrens and Blackbirds were also seen and heard. Sadly, no sign still of Nuthatch or Treecreeper. Water seemed to be pouring into the burn from all angles.
As we were about to leave the dene along the path which feels very steep after having done a long walk in drenching rain, I had given up on seeing the Dipper. Then in a flash a Dipper flew through the culvert and down the burn! Our day was proving to be quite successful. As we walked up the avenue, two pairs of eyes focused at the same time on a Treecreeper. We watched for a while as it climbed and circled the trees in the hedgeway and as it flew to another tree to begin the process again. A very attractive bird and one that didn’t seem to concerned by out presence. We decided not to even try for any possible flocks of geese as by now that rain was reaching uncomfortable levels and reaching parts it should not! We made instead for the hides at the pond. The paths were flooded in parts and where not flooded they were very muddy. A single Teal was spotted flying away from the pond. The wind was making the public hide feel like an ice box, so we made for the relative comforts of the members hide and on the path to it found a lone Pheasant.
The pond itself was as quiet as I have ever seen it. Four Black Headed Gulls were the total gull population today and they were joined by small flocks of Tufted Duck and Wigeon with odd Mallards, Moorhen and Coot. Oh yes, and there were at least two drake Goldeneye and two Mute Swans. The feeding station was attracting tits, Robin, Dunnock, Chaffinch, Goldfinch and in some number, Greenfinch. When we eventually made off towards Holywell village, dripping wet and muddied both Tom and I had added a few species to our year list and I had eventually broken my duck with Kingfisher in the dene. Tom clearly brings luck so I am definitely arranging more birding trips with him, but hopefully on drier days! Despite conditions, I think even Scott and Amundsen must have feared, we managed 54 species (once adding the Collared Dove in the village) for the list. My clothes and bag are downstairs drying out! We reckon we can hit 70 species on this walk, so watch this space.
Whilst I make light of the conditions I did notice three helicopters flying south down the coast and I suspect they were on there way to try and find the poor woman who was washed away to her death in Yorkshire yesterday. Never mess with the conditions!
Orchids on the Durham coast
1 day ago