Monday, 28 November 2011

Holywell to St Mary's Island

Autumnal dene. In stark contrast to this time last year.

28th Nov. Having heard a not so good weather forecast for the next few days I thought I ought to make the most of today’s bright skies. I made for Holywell. It seemed to me quite a while since I had actually completed the whole of my regular walk, especially beginning it at Holywell. What a difference a year makes! Almost to the day, last year the all weather birders were almost frozen and had initially thought that shovels might be needed to even get out of the thick snow in Killingworth. No sign of snow today and very mild by comparison. I was all alone so only one all weather birder today. It was a quiet day people-wise so for much of the time my only company was the birds! I was nearly flattened by a cyclist, but as he didn’t mean me any harm, I’ll let that pass!:-)

I was soon looking at two Tree Sparrows as I took the path towards Holywell Pond and I later found four of them at the new feeding station. There may have been five, but I couldn’t be certain of that. A mixed flock of gulls lifted from the fields to the west of the pond. The two feeding stations soon supplied sightings of Wren, Robin, Dunnock, Blackbird, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Chaffinch and Great Spotted Woodpecker. Once in the hide I found a female Sparrowhawk that flew across the pond and seemed to be heading straight for the hides open shutter until taking avoidance action at the last minute and flying through the feeding station. I also quickly had my eye on the European White Fronted Goose. I was to get a very close sighting of this bird later at the public hide. The bird’s pinkish bill, size, wide white ending to the tail and light colouring distinguishing it from its Greenland relative. Mind you, on colouring alone one could fall into a trap quite easily as in different lighting conditions the bird appeared to change quite quickly from light to dark.

The pond was generally quiet, with all of the Teal seemingly vanished! There were several Grey Herons about, Little Grebe, Pheasant, Mallard, Moorhen and Coot. A single male Goosander was also on the pond. I seem to think this is a first for me on this walk, along with the White Fronted Goose. Perhaps I’m wrong about the former. A small flock of Lapwing were unable to settle and flew over the pond on occasions. Gulls were the usual Black Headed, Common, Herring and Great Black Backed Gulls. A small flock of Greylag Geese also flew over the pond.

I eventually made my way down the avenue in the company of three Bullfinches which stayed a few yards in front of me until I reached the dene. Their white rumps had immediately caught my attention. I hadn’t found any geese in the fields to the east but did find a small flock of six feeding Stock Doves.

Once in the dene it seemed more like autumn than winter. There is still quite a bit of colour about the place and the water in the burn was almost still in places. All seemed at peace with the world. Near the culvert I glimpsed a ‘dipping’ Dipper and as I raised my binoculars to my eyes to get myself a better look it vanished into the culvert. It did fly past again, this time giving out a call. In the same vicinity was a Grey Wagtail. This beautifully coloured bird is wrongly named ‘grey’ in my opinion. In comparison to my recent trips into the dene, today was beginning to throw up some good birds. My luck continued when I found at least two calling Nuthatches and a Treecreeper. Great, Coal and Blue Tits where at the feeding station, along with Wren Robin and Dunnock. A pair of Great Spotted Woodpeckers where close by too. Further into the dene I found a party of eight Long Tailed Tits, another Bullfinch and a Kestrel which was constantly being mobbed by crows at it attempted to hunt out in the open. As I reached Seaton Sluice I found my first Redshank on the mud of the burn.

I found little on or over the sea apart from gulls, two groups of them appearing to be in a bit of a feeding frenzy, Cormorants and my old friends the Eider Ducks. I hoping for a bit more luck come December.

Below the Tower Hide I counted forty-four Knot. Other waders today were Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, and overhead displays of Golden Plover, good numbers of Lapwing, Sanderling, Turnstone, Purple Sandpiper, Dunlin, Redshank and Curlew. The bay north of the lighthouse held good numbers of feeding waders. Disturbed on occasions by a couple allowing their two dogs to run into the flock.

I found Rock Pipits, Pied Wagtail and of course the flocks of Starling, but on the whole, the coastal area seemed to be devoid of small passerines. I can’t remember the last time I saw Stonechats in the area I used to come across them regularly.

The wetland was a pleasant surprise as it held numbers of Teal, Wigeon and at least seven Gadwall. I looked at it from different viewpoints, but the birds were half hidden and therefore difficult to count.

It was still quite early, but the cloud was coming in, temperatures were dropping and the wind was getting up more strength, so rather than search the willows and hedging around the wetland I made for home. I had a species count of sixty-two today, in comparison the list last year was sixty-seven. It was interesting to go back and check. Last year the list had included two Brambling, (I remember Tom had seen a Woodcock fly overhead in Heaton), and I remember vividly the rather tired Brambling that was attempting to feed on the pathway to Seaton Sluice. As I journeyed home the sun was low in a yellowing sky. When I had arisen this morning the sky was red. I reckon I had made the right choice to get out today!


  1. I got your text, and after reading this i'm looking forward to my next chance to get and see them, hopefully at the weekend or sooner! glad there still here though

  2. Thanks Sam. I hope those owls will put on a good show for you.
    Cheers. Brian.