Tuesday, 11 September 2012

The Holywell Experience

8th Sept.  Having recently read a post on Holywell Birding’s blog where he recounted how his interest in his patch began, was nurtured and grew, I was reminded of my own passion and priorities when out with nature and this weekend’s experience fed both that very passion and priority.  Spending time at Holywell over a period of two days reminded me of how much importance I place upon watching the changing patterns of nature, not only over the years, seasons and weeks, but over the days, hours and minutes.  Also taking in, not only the fauna and flora of a well known area, but taking in the sounds, smells and changing light patterns, and coming across the many characters one passes.  Those who know me well will realise I’m not what one would call a ‘people person’, but I do recognise that there are some real characters out there.  There are few people I ever meet, who once getting talking to them, don’t show at least some interest in the natural world around them, and some can be very knowledgeable indeed.  Although some need a little bit of encouragement, and some more than others!

Today, Sam and I began our adventure at Holywell Village before moving onto view the pond area.  Tree Sparrows were seen at the feeding station and again numbers of Little Grebe on the pond, where other bird life included growing numbers of Teal and Pochard along with Grey Herons.  Swallows and House Martins were feeding over the water in some numbers.  Our real aim was to begin the day with some photography in the dene and more practice for me with the filters.  Wellington boots were the order of the day, despite the warm and dry conditions.  These proved essential as the day went on.  The feet got warmer and no doubt smellier as time passed by, but the ‘wellies’ were in fact very comfortable in comparison to my elderly boots.  Having spent a good bit of time in an area of the dene we really enjoy, the resulting images proved more than satisfactory and have given us more ideas.

One of many experimental long exposures

The chief smell today (apart from my feet) was of stagnant water as we moved on to check out some of the small ponds for dragonflies.  We found and had good sightings of Emerald Damselfly, Common Hawker, Southern Hawker and Common Darter.  The latter once again in large numbers.   We’d also found a rather interesting beetle, but I had been a bit preoccupied with landscape photography and didn’t get my lens changed quick enough to photograph it.  Sam reminded me that its usual to have the wrong lens on the camera at such times.  I do remember the beetle  had a thin green outline.  Some of the sound today included the calls of a Greenshank (seen flying high above the dene and the first one I’ve seen this year), Great Spotted Woodpecker, Wren, Robin, Blackcap and Willow Warbler.

Emerald Damselfly (thanks to Northumbrian Birding for the correct ID)

Common Darter

Butterflies seen today were White species, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Red Admiral, Speckled Wood and Comma.  Both the Comma and Red Admirals spent most of their time quite high on the branches of trees as if to tease me.

Retracing our steps we had hoped for further sightings of Dipper, but that was not to be today.  We did watch a Sparrowhawk hunting and manoeuvring through the trees.  We headed for the open farmland, on the way passing a young Song Thrush in exactly the same spot as we had found it on the outward walk.  It flew off only a short distance before returning to the same spot after we had passed by.

By now it was a warm evening with wonderful light.  We hoped to find the Short Eared Owl again and it didn’t take us long to do so.  It was hunting near to the hedge we had briefly seen a Short Eared Owl earlier in the week.  We had a far better sighting this evening.  It disappeared then was re-found amongst the stubble in the field and I sensed it was watching us carefully.  It eventually lifted and flew off.  We carried on along the tracks through the fields.  It’s not really until you’re out here that you realise just how vast this open area is.  Long may it remain this way!  Lapwings flew silently overhead and Linnets and Yellowhammers flew along the hedges.

It wasn’t long before we had found a Short Eared Owl again and this time it was joined by a companion bird, then another and then another.  We watched quietly from the hedge-way as four Short Eared Owls hunted over the fields, sometimes at distance, but sometimes coming close by us.  It’s amazing how these birds can suddenly just appear from no where and be so close by you.  We had a Kestrel flying nearby us, then two, then three all in close proximity to one another and eventually flying off in the same direction.  One of the Short Eared Owls took exception to one of the Kestrel’s flying in its path and a tussle took place over the top of the hedge-way.  An occasional walker was seen in the area, but they seemed oblivious to the owls and we were the only ones out there watching them.  This is certainly my type of bird watching!  Away from the ‘maddening crowd’.    It’s certainly been a year for Short Eared Owls, but none of my previous watching (any year) can beat this evening’s experience.  My photos won’t win any prizes, but I don’t much care about that, as that takes nothing away from the experience at all.  We watched as the owls hunted at greater and great distance from us.  Eventually we had had our fill and moved off in the direction of the pond.  What did we find when we got there?  Yes, another Short Eared Owl sat on a fence near the pond.  I’m certain that this was a different bird from the four we had been watching.  It had been a great day topped off by an even greater evening and we made off for home more than content as the sun dropped in the sky.

Short eared Owls
9th Sept.  After one or two changes of plan, we started at St Mary’s Island shortly after lunch.  The place was heaving with folk who presumably guessed that there would be few weekends as hot as this one again this year now that autumn is with us!  Perhaps they were also encouraged by free entry to the lighthouse.  We still managed to find numbers of Oystercatcher, Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Sanderling, Turnstone, Dunlin, Redshank and Curlew before walking to Seaton Sluice to enjoy the salubrious surroundings of the tower bird hide!  We found little on or over the sea apart from flocks of Eider, a single Fulmar and a small flock of Common Scoter.  Both Wall Brown and Small Copper Butterflies were found near to the cliffs.

Sam and I eventually made off in the direction of the dene.  We were hoping for more dragonflies and eventually another Short Eared Owl watch.  Despite conditions being very similar to the previous day and us being only very slightly later, there were only a very few Common Darters showing.  Never mind, the walk through the dene was as always enjoyable, if somewhat tiring today in the heat.  We eventually reached the open farmland and looked for the flight of Short Eared Owls.  To emphasise my point about changing patterns of nature, despite similar conditions this evening apart from a bit of a breeze getting up today, there was no Short Eared Owls and no Kestrels to be seen anywhere!  Another birder who we had spoken to as we left the previous evening had had no luck either.  After a good search we headed for the pond.  This too was so much quieter than the previous evening at the same time.

As we made for home one Kestrel did appear from over the houses on the edge of the village.  I’m also aware that Short Eared Owls were seen later in the evening and it is fitting that the sighting was by Holywell Birding.  Tonight was not to be our night, but the memory of the previous evening remained with us both.  I was delighted to have been able to share that with someone as enthusiastic and such good fun to be with as Sam.  Proving I guess that I am not totally a non people person.  It just has to be the right people!  A great and varied weekend!


  1. It's nice that the Short-Eared Owls are making such a good comeback at Holywell! Hopefully their numbers will go back to what they used to be like there (if they haven't already).

  2. I quite like that long exposure shot :) The Shorties are still putting on a show, hopefully I'll be down again later on.

    1. Thanks Cain. I'm on a bit of a mission with long exposures at present.:-)

  3. Hi Brian is the Damsel not Emerald ?

  4. ooops........Yes, thanks Brian. I was confused with this one. I should have done a better check and seen that the Emerald sits with wings half open. I'll put that right.