26th April. I can recommend a very good venue for lunch when it is raining heavily. Howick Hall has without doubt great charm when you’re practically the only visitor. My plans for lunch with a friend of mine weren’t going to be cancelled because of a little light dizzle, and having the café of the hall to ourselves made me feel as though I was born for this kind of lifestyle. The tulips in the grounds are very nice at this time of year although perhaps a few more are still to bloom. I’ve never visited the grounds before although I did sit outside of the main entrance and eat my sandwiches on a walk a few years ago. I had been tempted to enter and use the pic-nic tables, but felt that might have been seen as a bit of a cheek.
The birding interest began as we had our soup with numbers of birds visiting the feeders outside of the window. Siskin and Nuthatch being the highlights. We felt obliged to move eventually and decided to take the longest walk through the grounds and down to the sea at Howick Haven. The rain stopped for a while and despite the alien species growing in the grounds we found some very good birding habitat as we plodged through some areas. The burn was in flood.
A quick look at the small lake brought us Mute Swan on nest, Grey Herons, Mallard and Tufted Duck.
Soon into the walk through the woodland a Sparrowhawk flew overhead. There was a good deal of birdsong predominately Chaffinch, Wren and Chiffchaff. Other birds seen included Great, Coal, Blue and Long-tailed Tit, Goldfinch, Greenfinch, Bullfinch, Treecreeper, Blackbird, Wren, Robin and a pair of Blackcap. Song Thrush was briefly heard as was Nuthatch. The spell during which the rain stopped seemed to encourage song and appearances of the birds.
We had chosen to do the longer walk and once out of the final gate we had no option but to carry on as it is a one way only system. I understand one couple had on a previous occasion run into problems when a guy walked on and his partner decided she didn’t want to. I don’t know how that was resolved or if they remain in partnership! He may have been a nimble climber.
I eventually heard the sea and it is a wonderful sight walking out of the woodland as you approach the sea. It was quite breezy here and unfortunately the rain began again at this point. I’ve since being reading that Howick Haven was the site of a Mesolithic community. I should have known that, in fact I think I did but had forgotten. Bird highlight over the sea was three Arctic Terns fishing close to shore, displaying that stepped dive. Waders seen were Oystercatcher, Turnstone and Redshank. We took the walk at a fairly quick pace along the sometimes tricky and wet pathway so we may have missed things. Other birds I recall are Fulmar, Cormorant, Shelduck, Eider Duck, Herring Gull, Great Black Backed Gull, Skylark, Rock Pipit, Meadow Pipit, Reed Bunting and corvids. Rain or no rain, it was good to be out and about.
On the return walk I recalled having seen Stock Doves in this area before and there they were amongst the Wood and Feral Pigeons. The day ended back in what now felt like ‘our’ cafe, as there was no one else about. A cup of Earl Grey tea and a large slice of coffee and walnut cake ended the day along with a male Sparrowhawk just feet away from us on top of the bird feeders. I suspect it had perfected a drop from the thick growth of plants on the wall, in order to catch numerous feeding birds. On this occasion there were no birds about, only the Sparrowhawk itself.