Sunday, 16 December 2012

The All Weather Birders Hit the Sherry

15th Dec.  I met up with Tom and we headed for Holywell where we watched the sun rise.  The omens were good, the skies clear and the temperatures not to low.  Flooded fields, roads and pathways told the tale of the previous day’s downpours.  Having had the disappointment of a closed fish and chip shop last weekend you can imagine what was to be our target for lunchtime!  In any event the all weather birders had had a bit of catching up to do this week.  Sam was unable to join us on this occasion, as he is living it up in the far south.

We were greeted at Holywell Pond feeding station by a number of species including the now numerous Tree Sparrows and the resident Great Spotted Woodpecker that flew into its usual patch high in the trees.  Two Mute Swans flew over our heads.  Once down at the hide we found the water in the pond extremely high.  I’m pleased to say there was some life on the water today!  This included large numbers of Mallard, at least six Gadwall, Teal, Wigeon, Tufted Duck and Goldeneye.  The most numerous gull species on the water appeared to be the Great Black Backed Gulls.  We had seen Common Gulls in the fields as we had approached the pond area.

Overhead several large skeins of Pink-footed Geese flew in from the north east.  I estimated at least three hundred of them.  Although the largest skein seemed to land in the fields north of the pond others seemed to disperse further afield and we heard more Pink-footed Geese in the air later as we walked through the dene.  A flock of circa forty Lapwings were also in the air.  A Kestrel was flying in the area before taking up what seems to have become its favoured position.

We eventually made off towards the dene and looking southwards found numbers of Curlew, Lapwing and a single Bar-tailed Godwit feeding on the edge of one of the flash ponds that were to be seen throughout the day.  Our path was blocked by flooding so we retraced our steps and entered the dene from an alternative direction which gave us a closer sighting of the waders, especially the Bar-tailed Godwit.

No plodging today!
Once into the dene we found water was poring into the burn from all directions.  The burn itself was very deep and very fast running.  There was going to be no Dipper sightings today I feared, and I was correct.  It was hard to imagine Sam and I had plodged in the burn earlier this year.  There was no way I would have gone in today.  The water was coming through the culvert at a rapid speed and further into the burn the rocks of the waterfall could not be seen at all.  We did find Stock Dove and a pair of calling Nuthatches.  There were also the usual woodland species including Great, Coal, Blue and Long Tailed Tits.

Despite rather difficult and wet walking condition in places (mud up to my shins at one point) we eventually reached Seaton Sluice having passed another Kestrel on the way.  The sea  looked grey and deceptively calm , but waves reaching the shore were high and rough.  The yellowing sky to the south was very atmospheric and worthy of a photograph or two.  I only had the compact camera today.  Waders included Oystercatchers, Ringed Plover, Redshank, Sanderling, Knot and three Purple Sandpipers.  We also found the first of many Rock Pipits today.  Then it was time for fish and chips.

Grey sea and high waves

Tower hide in atmosphere

More atmoshphere

To my surprise the fish and chips were accompanied by a tray of Sherry and mince pies.  A very nice gesture I thought.  Sadly Tom does not like Sherry or mince pies.  As they say however, every cloud has a silver lining, and I do like ‘em.  So I knocked back both the drinks of Sherry before we left.  The small fish was as usual ginormous, so I had no room for the mince pies and had to bring them home!  As we left Tom suggested that it would be good if one of the many Starlings was pink.  You know, I could have sworn a few were!  Again there were few folk about on such a nice day.  I guess many would be in the Metro Centre spending their cash and loosing their tempers.  Tom commented on the fact that everyone we did meet today was in good spirits, I could only surmise they too had been for fish and chips.

The sea now was blue and there was a very different atmosphere although not for that long as dark purple cloud came in from the north and west and the light soon faded.  I had been able to point out to Tom the 777 flying into Newcastle.  I think he was pleased.:-)  Anyhow my aircraft spotting is improving!

More light after lunch
There was little to nothing on or over the sea but we did eventually find Eider Ducks in some number, a single Red-throated Diver flying north, two pale bellied Brent Geese flying north and one or possibly two female Common Scoters close in towards land.  These birds are rather attractive when seen closely.  Then we glimpsed a Peregrine Falcon fly by along the cliff below us being harassed and chased by two gulls.  The peregrine disappeared not to be seen again, although waders lifted further along the coast line and we think they may have been disturbed by the predator.

I scanned the area around the lighthouse and we began to pick up the first flights of Golden Plover.  As I scanned the ground I’m sure I picked up the face of a certain ‘Northumbrian’ Birder.  Now this is extraordinary, as I often don’t recognise this particular species when he is standing right next to me!  Or perhaps it was the sherry kicking in again!  We did eventually find a sizable flock of Dunlin.  I commented a short time ago that I hadn’t seen much of this species this year.  We took a close look in case the Black Redstart was still hanging about we didn’t have a sighting of it but did find numbers of Rock Pipits.

We decided to take a look at the wetland before heading for home.  This is done out of habit rather than in expectation of seeing anything of much interest in this neglected area these days.  As it happens we were to be pleasantly surprised with an overhead flight of seven Common Snipe which brought our wader list up to thirteen today.  We later had good sightings of eight Common Snipe on the wetland and I was able to enter into the Christmas spirit and show a couple of ladies these birds through the telescope.  Tom had been confident that we would see Reed Bunting and so we did.  There was also a good number of Teal on the overflowing pond.  I’m also quite positive that we spotted a Green Woodpecker flying in the vicinity of the wetland having approached form the direction of the island.  That’s not only a new tick for this particular area, but a new tick for the entire walk

Just before we left we picked up the first Grey Heron of the day as it flew over the fields.  Numbers of waders including Lapwing and Curlew were in the fields.

The Common Snipe had been a good omen suggesting that the once mighty Magpies might sneak something from their meeting with City (a long story behind this which I won’t bore you with).  I was therefore overjoyed when our taxi driver told us the result had been a 1-1 draw!  I was rather less overjoyed when I got home and saw the true result.  Never mind my nose was still feeling the warmth of the Sherry and no Taxi Driver’s incorrect tale will spoil what had been a very good day which had given us sixty-three species.

We drove passed the Bee Hive flash and found that it covered the road and had joined other temporary flashes in the fields opposite.  The fields around the Backworth area look like swimming pools in places and Backworth flash and Pond are well filled!


  1. This proves your an all-weather birder, lol. Many wouldn't have been so adventurous!

    Nice re: the Sherry.

  2. I think I have earned the right to the title all weather birder Mark, although the weather on Saturday was perfect. Not so sure that I have the right to the title Patch Birder this year however as I've neglected the patch a little I think.
    We did see the rescue helicopter out on Sat and now we see why. Sadly someone loosing their life off the Durham coast and several others having a lucky escape by the sound of it. Cheers.

  3. On reflection I would say you have reported on the patch quite a lot. Maybe you haven't been there every day perhaps, but your blogs on the Great-Crested Grebe's were informative and demonstrated how much yourself and Sam have been birding around the area.

    Sad re: the person at Durham Coast.