Monday, 28 May 2012

Rambles and Drama in Northumbria

26th May.  The sun shone and the temperatures rose as the weekend stretched out, and what a wonderful weekend it was.  It began today as Sam and I were dropped off at Wylam for the beginning of a two day stint that was to be more about photography than it was to be about birds and wildlife, although a bit of everything was included.  We watched hirundines fly near Wylam Bridge before making off towards Wylam Railway Bridge aka Points Bridge, passing the rather picturesque tunnel of the old railway.  Numbers of Long-tailed Tits were seen on the way along with other woodland birds including Blackcaps.

Tunnel under old Railway Line

Passing Haggs Farm we stopped a while at the small pond nearby where we watched insects.  Most of the butterflies were white species and Orange Tip.  A red and black insect on the grass stems caught the eye as did Blue-tailed Damselflies.  We soon made for the chalk hill known as the spetchells.  I’ve often wondered where this name originated.  It seems the area was named such on old maps.  It’s the largest area of chalk grassland in Northumberland, although not natural.  It is the spoil heap of a chemical factory that closed in the 1960s.  I understand that during the Second World War there was concern that enemy aircraft would use the hill as a navigational aid when they flew on bombing missions up the Tyne.  It was for this reason that it was grassed over so as to make it less obvious.  Today it has I understand a wide range of plant life which attracts butterflies, sometimes rare butterflies.  Because of the heat I had hoped to find butterfly species.  We were soon on the top of the hill, but I saw little in the way of unusual plants.  Maybe we were too early in the year.  The only butterflies seen were white species and Wall Brown.  The latter showing in some numbers.  Never the less it was an interesting area and provided decent if not stunning views, and provided a nice stop for lunch.  As Sam said at the time, not many better places to have lunch.  We were out of the way of the crowds encouraged to the outdoor life, as in the main they remained nearer to the centre of Wylam.  It’s my experience that many folk are encouraged out by the sun, but don’t like too walk far.  Judging by some of their physiques a good walk would be beneficial.  The sun comes out and clothing comes off and in my humble opinion, in some cases it would be better left on! :-)  The highlight of our time on the chalk hill was the Common Buzzard that flew at eye level.  I’ve been reading with interest about plans for the Common Buzzard.


The return walk took us close to the Tyne and we soon found a pair of Common Sandpipers and heard Common Whitethroat.  We found small fish in shoals near to the bank of the river and found an ideal spot to photograph Points Bridge.  There were no Dippers at the usual spot, owing I guess to the noisy human ‘dippers’ in the water.  We saw no Goosander,  but there were several Grey Herons in the area.  We got chatting to a friendly guy who had told his children that they were Kingfishers.  Well at least he was trying, taking an interest and friendly.  I suspect many of the other folk in the area didn’t even notice the Grey Herons!  This incident does highlight how little some folk know of the most obvious wildlife.  Speckled Wood Butterfly was seen.

Usually prefer my fish fried!

Wylam Railway Bridge 

Before catching the train back to Newcastle we walked along to Stephenson’s cottage and had a drink and ice-cream.  It was here that Green Woodpecker was heard and Great Spotted Woodpecker seen.  A pair of Common Sandpipers was seen again near the road bridge, but I can’t be certain they weren’t the same pair seen earlier, up river.  We had stopped to take some photographs of the local cricket match before our visit to the cottage.  It was like a scene from Midsummer Murders, with the cricket being played on a hot sunny day as the small crowd relaxed in the sun.  There were no murders however, although I was a bit anxious that I might be knocked out by the ball that was lost several times in the bordering trees and hedge.  With the number of tea breaks and lost ball breaks, I think the teams may still be trying to finish the match as I type.

It had been a really good day with lots of interest.

Time out to watch 

27th May.  I was invited by Sam and his dad Malcolm to join them on a day out.  Sam was keen to get some photographs and the area chosen was Steel Rigg and Crag Lough on Hadrian’s Wall.  One of Northumberland's real dramatic areas.  It’s years since I had visited here.  I was expecting the masses to be out in the sun, but to be honest whilst there was a good number of folk about (many of them not British)  there weren’t that many that it spoilt the atmosphere.  I’d forgotten how difficult the up and down paths were!

Crag Lough, Hadrian's Wall 

Watching birds was not the purpose of the day, but we did have good sightings of Common Buzzard, Kestrel, numbers of Wheatears, Skylarks, Meadow Pipits and a bird with us all the time, the Jackdaw.  I’d forgotten just how dramatic this area is and some good photographic opportunities cropped up.  So many in fact, that we just kept on walking.  I’ve never been to the area on such a wonderful day.  Although very hot by now the occasional cooling breeze made us comfortable.  Really enjoyed the chance to take photos at Sycamore Gap.  I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw that a child of maybe seven or eight had climbed the crags.  Took me all my time to look down from the top of them.  A lone Canada Goose was on the lough and an angler fished from a boat
Crag Lough, Hadrian's Wall 

Sycamore Gap, Hadrian's wall 

Crag Lough, Hadrian's Wall 

Hadrians Wall, Looking West 

The second part of the day was spent at Hareshaw Linn.  I knew this area as I’d visited once or twice.  It was sometime ago and I think that time had made me forget the distance.  So after a tiring walk on Hadrian’s Wall I felt a bit guilty in suggesting a visit to the waterfall.  By now the heat of the day was at its highest so it wasn’t an easy walk.  Willow Warblers and Chiffchaff were soon found, as was a Treecreeper.  We were hoping for Dipper and one was very briefly seen as we set off.

I’d asked Sam to show me one of his photographic techniques and he called me over to do just that after taking some photos near the burn.  This is where more drama occurred.  I stepped onto a very slippery flat rock and over I went.  I must have looked comical as I attempted to stand up on what felt like a sheet of ice.  A picture of me floating down the burn, which I almost went in, flashed before my eyes.  I managed to stand up with some assistance from Malcolm and Sam and so was saved from a nasty fate.  If I’d gone into the burn I know Sam was ready to jump in.  Although I suspect it was my bins and camera he had his eyes on.  Never mind if I had gone the journey I would have floated down to the North Sea at least knowing my gear would be put to good use.:-)  I only joke as I know Sam was concerned.  Another guy almost did exactly the same thing as I did so that made me feel better! :-)

We continued the walk and passed by a long stretch covered in Water Avens, another one of my favourite flowers which I have never seen in such abundance.  We wondered if we were ever going to reach the waterfall.  It must have been the heat that made me completely forget what it was like and when we reached the fall with the tree trunk in front of it I thought, good grief is this it!  Sam said he was impressed but I sensed he wasn’t.:-)  I did remember that you reach a dead end at the water fall so Malcolm walked on and found it round the corner.  Sam and I soon caught up.  Thankfully, I think both Sam and Malcolm were truly impressed by it this time!  Another great photo opportunity and this time I got to learn the technique without incident.  Three Grey Wagtails flew under and around the fall.  It offered us another dramatic part of the day even though the fall was not in full flood.   We had the place to ourselves until one of the locals arrived and told us what it is like here in winter when the icicles hang at the side of the fall and the water is more extensive.

Hareshaw Linn, new technique courtesy of Sam

Water Avens

Our time at the waterfall allowed us to cool down a lot and this made the return walk more enjoyable.  We soon found a Dipper and had good and long sightings of it.  Once back in the village we were all feeling cream crackered so the decision was made to make for home.  Goosander was seen on Tyne.

It had been an interesting and great weekend.  Hadrian’s Wall being the highlight.  We have such fantastic areas with much natural and historic value in Northumberland, and we should never forget that.  My thanks go to both Sam and Malcolm for helping me enjoy it so much.


  1. Your insect is a froghopper Brian, they create cuckoo spit on plants. Spetchels is a great site for plants and butterflies.

  2. Thanks Brian. I knew about the froghopper and cuckoo spit, but had no idea what a froghopper looked like.

  3. If you ever get out towards Steel Rigg again Brian its worth a walk pout to Greenlea Lough which is a bit north of the Wall. It's part of the Border Mires and a fantastic place with a fragile landscape that you cross partially using a boardwalk. Lots of rare plants and insects and last time i visited my mate and i were sitting in the hide having our bait and an Osprey flew overhead. Shortly after there were three, two adults and a juv. One of them dropped down and fished in front of us, AMAZING !.We informed the visitor centre at Twice Brewed and it turned out they had nested there and they thought they were Kielder Birds.

  4. Thanks for the info John. It's an area I know of only vaguely. Sounds as though it is well worth a visit.
    In theory there is no reason why Ospreys can't expand a good deal in Northumberland so hopefully such expansion takes place over the years and the birds remain free from persecution and egg thieves.

  5. Sounds like a fab weekend, I bet you all shall be well tanned now, lol.

  6. Cool, it's nice to get one on the odd occasion that we have a run of good weather, lol!