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.
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! :-)
Hareshaw Linn, new technique courtesy of Sam
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.