Sunday, 28 April 2013

Patch, Park and Carr.

27th April.  The day started with a year tick as at least a couple of Common Terns flew over Killingworth Lake.  Sam had caught sight of them last night and he and I met at the lake today.  Swallows, Sand Martins and House Martins accompanied the terns over the large lake.  Sadly the Great Crested Grebes are having a difficult year so far.  Initially it seemed to be the weather that delayed nesting by one month relative to last year.  Having finally got started in safe position the nest has been deserted and appears to have been taken over by Coots.  Desertion of the nest coincided with the council lowering the water in the lake by several inches as reported in the Evening Chronicle this week.  I hadn’t realised that the water level of the two lakes are connected, but it seems it is, although I’m happy to be corrected on that point.   Incidentally I don’t agree entirely with what was reported, but there seems little point in commenting anymore as the same information is constantly churned out.  At least the council has got around to repairing the dangerous kerbs around the lake.  Now the grebes appear to be attempting a new nest and no doubt the council will raise the water levels!  We will remind them of how few Great Crested Grebes actually breed successfully in Northumberland.    Chiffchaffs were heard and seen.  We moved on to take some photos of Snakes head Fritillary which wasn’t easy in the wind so another attempt may be warranted.  Having had a good look at Dial Cottage (George Stephenson’s cottage) on the Great Lime Road we made for the Rising Sun Country Park, feeling cold, but happy.  Both Sam and I have a keen interest in following up the history of the areas we visit and this is generally appreciated on the walks we lead.

Snakes-head Fritillary
The park centre was as busy as I’ve ever seen it with the café doing a roaring trade, with a couple of events going on so we made away from that point pausing to take a look at our old friend Stan the Stag, now apparently content to stay in the field with the horses, his roaming around the park days now over it seems.

Stan the Stag takes a bow.
Birdlife around the park was quite scarce today.  There were certainly numbers of Willow Warbler and lesser numbers of Chiffchaff.  Sedge Warbler had been briefly heard by a birder we spoke to that I know well, but not by name.  Despite Common Terns flying over Killingworth Lake there were none to be seen at Swallow Pond today.  It wasn’t until we got up onto the hill that we found Common Whitethroats which were keeping low most of the time.  We’d found none in the area where both Common and Lesser Whitethroat had been found at this time last year.  The hedges had recently been cut back.  Could this not have been done in winter rather than spring and the nesting period?  Perhaps I ought to stop asking questions like this, or perhaps people might think I haven’t much time for the Local Authority!!!  Anyway there were at least two or three Common Whitethroat on the hill as well as a pair of Wheatear and Skylarks.

Having come down from the hill we joined the maddening crowd for a snack at the café before making off for Prestwick Carr.  Budding premiership footballers didn’t seem too bothered about where the ball was kicked, but at least it didn’t land in my bowl of soup and I wasn’t bitten!

If the park was quite I have to say the Carr was quieter still and as someone commented during the day, it was hard work to find anything.  Again there were plenty of Willow Warblers, but our walk along the bumpy road and up past the sentry box brought us little else, although we did hear two Grasshopper Warblers and I understand another was reeling further along the pathway.  We didn’t manage to locate the Redstart that had been watched by another birder.  I was told that someone had seen a Little Egret fly in earlier today, but we were unable to locate that either.  I picked out Pied Wagtails in the distance but saw no sign of Yellow Wagtail, but that’s not to say it wasn’t there as I had no scope.  Greylag Goose and Grey Heron were seen and Curlew heard.  A Common Buzzard was also seen flying over the pathway.  On our return walk we bumped into a couple of birders who were hoping to find the reported Great White Egret.  It had been reported before our arrival at the Carr.  I’m unsure if there is some confusion between little and great, but in any event we saw neither species during the time we were present.  I now see that Great White Egret was seen at times during the day in the exact same area we had watched.

Before we made for home both Long-tailed Tits and a Willow Tit were seen.  As mentioned, finding species was hard work today, and cold too at times despite the sun.  It was an enjoyable day though and interesting to hear the views of some other birders, with three new year ticks amongst the fifty-five bird species seen.  The birds we did see seemed very flighty as did the two Small Tortoiseshell Butterflies seen on the Carr, so the cameras weren’t used very much today.

The Snakes head Fritillary  Fritillaria meleagris which took a few minutes of our time in the morning is a very nice flower which certainly used to grow as a garden escape in Killingworth, and perhaps still does.  I know this as some soil I took from an abandoned orchard many years ago prior to housing being built on the land, produced a single Snakes head Fritillary in my garden for a number of years before one year it just failed to appear again.

Snakes-head Fritillary
There is some argument that Snakes head Fritillary has never been a naturally wild plant in Britain and that all these plants that are found in the wild have originated from garden escapes.  The flowers we looked at were cultivated specimens but no less attractive for that.  The scientific name is interesting.  Fritillaria stems from the Latin fritillus meaning dice-box and probably refers to the chequered pattern on the flowers.  (The chequered pattern on Fritillary Butterflies is believed to lead to that name also).  The name meleagris means ‘spotted like a guinea fowl’.  The common name ‘snakes head’ refers to the snake like appearance of the green and nodding flower heads.

I’m hoping to get back on a calmer day for more photos.

Wednesday, 24 April 2013

Focussing on Badgers.

23rd April.  Sam and I celebrated St George’s day by joining a Badger watch.  I have a confession to make, I have never seen a Badger alive in the wild.  I have seen several dead ones by the side of roads, but never a live one.  I think I mentioned last year in my blog that I was determined to put that right and this was my chance.  I arrived in hope as I knew a friend of mine had had sightings last week in the same area.  However, nature being what it is I tried not to build up expectations too much.

Initially we were shown Badger tracks, currently used and old setts and a Badger latrine.  On making to the viewing area we were warned that it could be very cold and that we must say if we began to feel the cold to much as the leader did not want to have anyone down with Hypothermia.  As someone who also leads events I am deeply aware of the importance of risk assessments and it was obvious such an assessment had been done for this event.  I do note that many people take risk assessments as a bit of a joke, but they are never the people who have to face the consequences if anything goes wrong!  Having spent time photographing at night in Bamburgh in under zero degree temperatures Sam and I were confident we’d cope.  In fact I left afterwards feeling quite warm.  The five participants by necessity were close together throughout so that may have helped.

We soon had one good sighting of four Roe Deer then another of two Roe Deer, probably from the same group, and we were entertained by bird calls and song including from that of Green Woodpecker, Great Spotted Woodpeckers, Blackbirds, Jays, tits, finches and Little Grebe.  As we began our evening vigil a few Greylag Geese flew overhead, their calling being heard clearly too.

Initially the only other movement that took the eye was from that of a rather large Rabbit.  We waited in silence with cameras primed and binoculars at the ready.  I nearly didn’t take my camera as I had been told photography in the conditioned was near by impossible.  As it proved it was, at least initially, quite easy.  It wasn’t to long before a Badger decided to lift its head from the sett and sniff in the air.  It soon vanished back into the sett.  It certainly knew we were there.  Two or three other tentative sniffs were soon taken, but no more was seen than the head of the Badger.   A Badger made a very brief appearance at another opening in the sett.  I just managed to catch movement from the corner of my eye.  Anyway I now had my ‘lifer Badger’ so I was very pleased.  It is an experience I won’t forget easily.

Taking the air.

Looks good out there.

One of the Badgers was eventually completely out of the sett and soon decided to go off for a wander.  Long distance shots were difficult now in the dimming light, but it was good to watch through the binoculars.  An added bonus, and in fact a real highlight of the evening was a good sighting of an Otter as it passed through.  Great stuff indeed.

Good to be out.
My expectations of the evening were well surpassed and I think Sam also had his best views of Badgers.  Difficult to say how many we actually saw, but it was definitely at least three.

It was definitely a mammal night feast with Pipistrelle Bats added to our list as we made off leaving the Badgers in peace.  Thanks to all involved, especially the wildlife.  Mammals seen = Badger Meles meles (3), Otter Lutra lutra, Rabbit Oryctolagus cuniculus, Roe Deer  Capreolu capreolus (4+), Common Pipistrelle  Pipistrellus pipistrellus (3+).

Sunday, 21 April 2013

Holywell Pond, Dene and Coast.

20th April.  It was George Braque, the cubist painter, who said ‘less is more’ and this is the line I think fits well into my philosophy of bird and nature watching.  Not for me all of the trendy devices which tell you where the rarer birds can be found and not for me all of the hassle involved in chasing across country ticking off birds from a list and adding to my own.  Just not my thing at all.  No, my ideal is spending time in an area I know well or at least getting to know a new area well, taking my time about it with much less hassle, but actually in my view, seeing, hearing and learning more. This is what Sam and I did again yesterday.  Thankfully we share the same philosophy about nature watching.

I’d had some business to sort out in Holywell on Thursday so had taken a walk to the pond and dene.  It had been windy and cold.  What a difference today, as it offered sun and warmth.  This ensured that we had some sightings of butterflies.  At least ten Small Tortoiseshell and two Peacocks were seen on our walk from Holywell Village to St Mary’s Island.  There had also been an influx of Willow Warblers which we first saw and heard as we approached the pond.  They continued to be around in number as we continued the walk, seeming to out number even the abundant Chiffchaffs in some areas.

At last by the time we reached Seaton Sluice a Small Tortoiseshell had settled.
Swallows and House Martins flew overhead as we approached the pond, although in smaller numbers than there had been on Thursday.  We were pleased to see a Great Crested Grebe on the pond, not such a regular sighting on this pond these days.  We wondered, as we had last year if it was the single bird from Killingworth Lake.  The one which had disappeared recently.  We saw no sign of nesting activity or a second bird, but that’s not to say this was simply hidden in the reeds.  Also on the water were numbers of Little Grebe (their calls heard before we had sighted them), Mute Swan, Greylag Geese, Canada Geese, Mallard, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Moorhen and Coot.  Waders seen were three Redshank and several Lapwings.  The Great Spotted Woodpecker was briefly seen.  Small passerines in the vicinity of the pond included Willow Warbler, Robin, Dunnock, Great Tit, Blue Tit, Chaffinch, Greenfinch, Reed Bunting and Tree Sparrow.  Pheasants were heard calling from time to time.  As we left the pond and headed for The Avenue walk to the dene we were son listening to Skylarks over the farmland.



The East Pool brought us sightings of Gadwall and Teal, but the Greenshank that had been recorded earlier had vanished.  We did think we might have found it on flash south of the pond but this turned out to be another Redshank.

The Avenue held numbers of Willow Warbler in song.  Yellowhammer, Reed Bunting and Linnets were also seen.  Once into the dene the sound of Willow Warbler song took centre stage, but the Chiffchaffs soon made there presence felt.  Sam and I took one of our breaks near to the burn and it wasn’t long before we were rewarded with good sightings of Dipper.  We were soon being serenaded by Dipper song.  The first time this year we have heard this song.  Stock Doves flew in the area.  Sam caught sight of a Sparrowhawk.

A little further east we took another break and perhaps it was at the point that the bird song was at its best with a Nuthatch calling loudly and at length, accompanied by more Willow Warblers, Chiffchaff, Blackcap, Wren, Blackbird, Chaffinch, tits and other woodland sounds.  We found two or three male Blackcaps.  Unfortunately we found it difficult to day to get any decent photographs of warblers.  The butterflies were equally difficult being very flighty in the dappled sun.  We had sightings of both Nuthatch and Treecreeper before deciding to be adventurous and get down by the burn to take photographs of the waterfall.  A mix of very slippery rocks and boots needing renewal resulted in me ending up on my back.  Thankfully the only injury was to my pride.  We did get some half decent images so it was all worth the effort.  This area could not have been approached during the past months as the water was so deep and fast.  There is now a very different atmosphere about the dene and flora now in flower includes much Lesser Celandine (very late I think), Wood Sorrel and Cow Parsley.

I risked life and limb to get these images!

Wood Sorrel

We continued our walk through the dene, discovering at least one small  pathway not previously explored by us, so took a look down it.  We also looked at the small area that once contained a house and pig sty.  I’ve been told by a couple of people that many years ago you could buy pop, sweets and crisps from the owner of the house.  Further along our familiar route we decided to make the small climb to the ruins of Starlight Castle.  I’d never been up here before and it had been to muddy and wet to attempt it during the winter.  Starlight Castle is a folly, built it is said by Sir Francis Delaval, after having accepted a bet that he could build a home for a lady acquaintance in a day.  I wager that the lady concerned wasn’t his wife! Having looked at the stone work that still remains I’d also wager that it wasn’t put up in a day.  Nice view down the burn to Seaton Sluice, especially when the sun shone.  We continued onwards to Seaton Sluice where Sam managed not to avoid the usual pot hole full of muddy water.  He ended up again with one dark boot and one light one.  We saw little in the way of bird life on this stretched apart from nicely marked Redshank and a Grey Heron which lifted from the south bank.

We reached the coast having attempted to avoid the multitudes of cyclists, dog walkers and other folk out in the sun today.  The tide was on its way out and we found Fulmar, Cormorant, Eider Duck, Oystercatcher, Sanderling, Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Redshank, gulls, and Sandwich Terns at or passing the point at Seaton Sluice.  It had been time for us to take another slightly longer stop.

On our walk to St Mary’s Island we did find more Sandwich Terns, Skylark, Meadow Pipits and Sand Martins, Swallows and House Martins, but little else.  We spent a little time on the island but little in the way of wildlife was found by us today.  Once we crossed back to the mainland it was time for another break.  We’d found the walk tiring today for some reason.  Maybe just not used to heat!

Before we left for home we took time to photograph Sanderling, Redshank and Ringed Plover on the beach.  The Sanderling showing an interesting range of plumage.  Thankfully no one was exercising their dog amongst the flocks of birds today!  A number of Pied Wagtails were seen, but I didn’t notice the reported White Wagtail.  My last bird action of the day was to photograph a male Swallow as it sat on the wire outside the entrance of the crematorium.

I always enjoy watching the Sanderling, made even more interesting today by noting the changing and varying plumage amongst the flock and thankfully no dog walkers to spoil things.

Ready to go home I realised I have no images of Swallows so started with this nice easy male.  Sam tells me my next test is to capture them in flight!  Don't hold you breath but I'll be practicing.
Another great day of action and I reckon George Braque had it spot on.

Thursday, 18 April 2013

Birding in Stained Glass.

During our recent trip to Bamburgh, Sam and I visited The Parish Church of St Aidan.  I hadn’t been in this church for many years and don’t remember having taken a lot of notice of the interior on previous visits anyway.  On this occasion we had planned some photography in the evening so it did entail taking a good look around.  Although I make no claims to hold strong religious beliefs, I do like historical buildings and the atmosphere that they have, especially religious buildings.  I also like peace and quiet which isn’t always easy to find in this hectic and often noisy world of ours.  I was very impressed with St Aidan’s Church and in particular the stained glass windows.  It was really the stained glass windows which took us back for a second visit.  These windows are said to be some of the finest stained glass windows in the north of England.  Before we left on our first evening visit we found some stained glass which included depictions of wildlife and this was the principal thing that drew us back.  So there is a bird and wildlife element to this post.  Incidentally Sam got himself an interesting book related to nature too (one in a series that he collects), which was got very reasonably from the books on sale in the church.

Some of the stained glass in the church is of some age and Flemish, but what caught the eye most of all was more modern pieces which were unveiled in 1936.  They commemorate the young grandchildren of Arthur Lionel Smith, Master of Baliol College, Oxford.  Both grandchildren died at a young age and I found them very poignant.  The glass which features the granddaughter includes representation of farm animals including a small pig looking out from the pig-sty.  One of the ladies arranging flowers in the church pointed this out to us, and whilst obvious once you found it, it was not that easy to find.  The birds and wildlife are included in the glass representing the grandson and I include some images below.  Wildlife represented included Dipper, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Blackbird, Red Squirrel, Gulls, Rabbit, Grey Partridge with nest and eggs, Goldfinch, Green Woodpecker and I think, Swift.  The window alongside depicts Guillemots.

You may need your binoculars to pick the birds and wildlife out in the righthand side image.

I’ll include some other images simply because I enjoyed taking them I was pleased with the result.

Representation of St Aidan and placed above the spot where he is said to have died.

Returning to the topic of birdlife.  Of course, St Cuthbert features a good deal in the church and is represented in the stained glass and elsewhere.  The story has it that St Cuthbert was the first bird conservationist offering protection to the Eider Ducks in the region.  Hence the name Cuddy Duck which will come to little surprise to most locals.  This seems to have been nothing more than a myth perpetrated during the Victorian era.  I found no representation of Eider Ducks in the Stained Glass, nor did I find Puffins represented.  If you want Puffins just go to Seahouses, as they seem to be represented on almost everything in the gift shops!  I suppose better still take a trip to the Farne Islands and at least you’ll get the real thing.

Grace Darling is buried in the family grave in the grounds of the church.  Her rather grand memorial stands yards away from the grave, which I have only recently realised.  The memorial was placed where it was so that it could be seen by folk on passing ships and boats.  I’m sure most reading this blog will be very much aware of the history behind Grace and her father’s heroics in rescuing people from the wreck of the Forfarshire.  The Grace Darling Museum is opposite the church.  As a schoolboy I was brought up on tales of Grace Darling.  I have to admit I have only just read the details of the inquest into the death of passengers on the Forfarshire as that was not something that was ever included in the story when I was young.  Nor do I think I was ever told that the Darling family offered accommodation to visitors, which included naturalists and bird watchers, to the Farne Islands.  This brought them a little extra cash to the family income.  The family’s diet included birds, and their eggs, collected on the Farnes.   Mr Darling being the lighthouse keeper.  When the lighthouse on Longstone replaced that which the family had lived in on Brownsman, the family found the conditions far bleaker in their new surroundings.  There were no bird colonies on Longstone, however Mr Darling worked at laying sand to make conditions suitable and bird colonies built up so clearly played some part in changing the ecology of the island/s.  Mr Darlings shooting and fishing continued and I guess the family diet continued to include eggs!

One last thing about the church.  The graveyard has many interesting and old gravestones including one which depicts a skull and crossbones.  It is the grave of a pirate.  He, I assume a he, seems to have taken a prime spot in the graveyard as it is near to the main doorway of the church.

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Bamburgh's Bunker Birders!

On our recent tour of duty in Bamburgh, Sam and I marched from Spindlestone to Bamburgh during which time we came across the Second World War gun emplacement on the coast near to Budle Bay.  Nearby we came across a Stonechat and from the window we spotted a Slavonian Grebe travelling north on the sea.  We two being business minded, astute, sage like and just a little bonkers, we began to have some very grand ideas for what we called Samuel and Brian’s Birding Bunker.  The view over Budle Bay and the North Sea is wonderful and could be put to great use.

A room with a view
We initially wondered why no one has come up with the idea of making this into a bird hide!  It certainly offers more comfort than many hides I have been into in Northumberland.  I even suggested to Sam that this could make a very good home and business premises.  Ok, a little minor work will be required, but nothing grand as we are simple people and don’t expect to live in luxury.  One thing is for sure we wouldn’t have to splash the cash on loft or cavity wall insulation as the stone work is several feet thick.  I even worked out where the bathroom could go.  Sam being the deep thinker that he is came up with some possible problems.  We would need to get rid of the strong smell of urine and other toxic substances that spoil the atmosphere ever so slightly.  I kind of poo poo’d this idea, if you will excuse the pun.  I thought this matter could be sorted quite easily.  I guess the other problem of essential services such as water and electric that Sam mentioned may prove a little more of an obstacle for us to overcome.

Sam gives the air conditioning system check.
Anyway, there are some positives, as the round holes through the walls, I understand initially made for the cordite, could act as superb air conditioning and storage for tripods and other birding and photography gear.  We even thought the stone shelves would make ready made bunks in our bunker.

We did think however that once such a good idea of ours gets made public, that others may try to get on the bandwagon and even thought bird clubs might try and interfere and take over.  Well, don’t worry as we thought this all through carefully and we have ways to protect our interest even if attacked from the sea!  We had a great deal of discussion about land and sea defences.  I even thought that we may need to mine the area.  This idea has been scuppered however, as Sam ever so wisely thought it might cause problems for the wonderful habitat that will surround our bunker and we agreed that we wouldn’t want to lose any paying customers.

We consider how best to defend our interests.

Sam looks on while I try out my gear in the event that close combat may be required.

This may give any possible advance from the sea by bird clubs or others something to think about.  As I said to Sam, 'they wont like it up 'em'.

Paying customers you ask?  Yes that’s right.  We are intending to offer Bamburgh Bunker Birding Tours to individuals, groups and societies.  Small discounts are to be available to anyone we personally like.  Get in quickly with your deposit and you could soon be birding from a bunker.  There are no toilet or washing facilities quite prepared yet, but we are talking hard core birders here so that I’m sure won’t cause too much of a problem.  We may have to delay our tours for the more refined RSPB Groups until a little later.  However we do have a wonderful programme for the RSPB Groups so please be patient and just look below at what we are offering in our selection of Bamburgh Birding Bunker Tours.

Copper Kettle Capers at the Tea Room (voted in top twenty tea rooms in the UK by the Tea guild) (especially aimed at RSPB Local Groups)

An early start will be made each day at 11.00am where the coach will escort us to the Copper Kettle Tea Room for breakfast before a saunter is taken to Stag Rock if weather permits.
Lunch will be taken at the Copper Kettle Tea Room. This will be followed by a walk to Bamburgh Castle where time will be allowed (2 hours) for shopping in the gift shop.  Tea can be taken in the café at the castle before the walk back to the Copper Kettle Tea Room for dinner.  Samuel and I will attempt to pack some bird watching in, between café stops.
Evenings will be spent in the bunker where sing song will be arranged and entertainment will be provided by Samuel and Brian.  Presentations of bird images will be given and Samuel will also entertain with his bird vocal skills.  Samuel does a mean Eider Duck!  The final evening will include a tea drinking competition and the winner will receive an imitation Copper Kettle and a three month supply of  the finest Earl Grey Tea.

Birds, Bunkers and Beer for Bloggers.

This is an especially adapted tour aimed at Birder Bloggers and Bird Club Members.
Initially this tour may run before we have a fresh water supply, but fear not, beer will be supplied by the bucket full.  Junior Bloggers will be offered shandy.  (we do have standards in our bunker).  Those of you who wish to bring a supply of water for washing may do so, but if you wish to have hot water please supply your own Copper Kettle!
Each day will begin at 5:00am when a hearty full breakfast will be served and pints of local beers served.  Birding will begin at dawn and end at dusk during which we will all wander up and down the coast with cameras, binoculars, telescopes, tripods, other miscellaneous personal equipment and in dirty camouflage gear.  Each day will end with a compulsory day listing of birds during which copious amounts of beer will be served.  Beer is also available in your bedside cabinets.  Packed lunches comprising of pies and beer will be provided daily. 
Please supply your own sleeping bag and deodorants.
The trip will end with a pelagic on the North Sea which will take place what ever the weather.  Beer will be served on the boat.  At the end of the trip a vote will be taken as to the finest birder on the trip.  The person with this fine title will be presented with a crate of beer.

Now come along and join Samuel and Brian in the Birding Bunker.

Having discussed this business venture at length and perhaps rather loudly whilst in the bunker, we set off to continue our walk.  On leaving the bunker we found two people sat outside.  They gave us such an odd look as if we were bonkers.  The cheek of it!

Monday, 15 April 2013

Allenheads, Coast and Patch

13th, 14th  & 15th  April.  Having had such an active week, I can’t believe seven days have passed since our island stranding.  I’m cream crackered tonight, but life is for making memories and I have made some great ones this last week.  I’ve decided to combine this weekends exploits in order to catch up.

Saturday saw Sam and me off with the RSPB gang to Allenheads.  Good to be in the uplands despite the deep snow still lying in places.  I went in almost up to the knees in one spot.  Sadly, dead wildlife and sheep seemed to reflect the harsh conditions of late.   We started the day with Brown Hare on the journey which I am sure only Sam and I saw, a round of Happy Birthday for Sam, and then a couple of Frogs one of which  looked rather odd on the snow.  The area around Allenheads village seemed birdless in comparison to a previous visit I had made with the group at a similar time of year.  However Song Thrush was in full song and Chaffinches called as we started the steady climb.

Cold feet

Some folk seemed to set off at ramblers club pace, but the serious birders took things far more gently.  We were rewarded with a long distance sighting of Black Grouse (I hope for much better) and far more sightings of Red Grouse.  I reckon we saw at least eight Common Snipe in display flight and four or five Woodcock made brief appearances.  I’m pleased that we found several Wheatear which I assume have just arrived.  A few saw passing Swallow, but I’m afraid I was photographing that Frog in the snow at the time.  Meadow Pipits were numerous and the odd Skylark was heard.  Three Golden Plover landed very close to us and other birds I recall on the higher ground were Pheasant, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Curlew and Stock Dove.  We later had close sightings of Fieldfare and Mistle Thrush.

The area is good for photographs of course, but today’s light was not good (at least not in the direction wanted), although we still seemed to miss a few species in attempting to get some images.  Someone pointed out a distant Common Buzzard in an otherwise raptor free area, but I never caught sight of it.  Common Buzzard was seen on our return journey.  We walked along the river and sat taking in the peace and quiet.  Sam and I agreed that you don’t need the area to be buzzing with birds to enjoy the atmosphere and surroundings.  If we had walked a little further we would have found Dipper and Grey Wagtail.

Allenheads upland atmosphere

 We avoided the café, but thankfully we couldn’t avoid the very nice cake, as Sam was presented with a birthday cake capped with his favourite species, a Whooper Swan.  Everyone seemed to enjoy their piece of cake and the Whooper Swan returned home with Sam.  I think it is made of marzipan.  It was very kind of Marie to make the cake, which I think reflected Sam’s popularity in the group and gratitude for his voluntary input into it.  A great day was had.

Sam puts in some field-craft practice before the presentation

The cake!
14th April.  Sunday’s arrangements were made at a late stage, when we decided that a trip down to the coast would be appropriate.  We hoped for migrants.  We hadn’t expected the very strong wind!  Little was found although a start to the day brought a very brief sighting of Black Redstart.  Despite the wind it was warm and hats and gloves were not required.

The wetland and willows area at St Mary’s island was very quiet apart from a nice sighting of Goldcrest.  We crossed to the island before the tide came in, where the highlight was a Common Seal.  Walking to Seaton Sluice wasn’t easy in the strong wind.  We did eventually pick up four Sandwich Terns, Kittiwakes, Lapwing, Purple Sandpiper, Turnstone, Redshank and Curlew.  Meadow Pipits were again about in number.  Sam picked up a couple of Swallows, but having been in conversation I missed them!  The Kestrel was flying along the cliff edge.

A surreal moment of the day was when Sam and I heard a piper playing on the cliffs at Seaton Sluice!  I have to say he sounded quite good.  After having our snack we decided to return home earlier than planned.

The Piper calls the tune
I later got txt from Sam telling me that there were Swallows and Sand Martins over the lake.  I couldn’t resist and I was down there like a shot.  I soon had my first Swallows and Sand Martins on the year list.  Obviously quite a bit later than 2012.  I missed the Shelduck which were a patch tick for Sam and would have been for me too!  Great Spotted Woodpecker was heard and a few Goldeneye remain on the lake.  We looked at the wooden beams that have been put in to prevent the Mute Swans from accessing the grassy area to be fed and noted that the numbers of Canada Geese had dropped right down.  The Mute Swans were being fed in another area of course.  The edge of the lake in places is nothing but a dangerous and neglected disgrace and I can’t help feeling it is simply a matter of time before someone has an accident and falls into the lake.  I am surprised that in this day and age, when there are those who will jump at the first chance of taking legal action, that the local authority are not keenly aware of the possibility of being sued in the event of injury.  The floating reed-bed which I understood to have been renewed by April remains an eyesore, with no hint of any work having been started.  No doubt the weather will be blamed for the delay.

So on what had seemed a very quiet day we still ended up with fifty-four species of bird on the day list.  I decided to keep a search for Willow Warbler on patch until another day!  I was just too tired.  So, a great week that I have really enjoyed to the full.  Much madness thrown in, but it would be a sad life without some madness. :-)

Tonight as I typed out the above report, a Blackbird was/is singing outside of the window which I have now opened.  I’ve missed the Blackbird song so far this year, and bird song in general.

15th April.  Monday included another walk on patch.  Chiffchaffs were numerous although the hoped for song of Willow Warbler wasn’t heard.  One of the Great Spotted Woodpeckers showed closely and well.  Numbers of Swallow have increased and between fifteen and twenty fed low over the playing field and occasionally joined Sand Martins feeding over the small lake.  I also saw a lone House Martin (my first of the year) flying with the Swallows which I had been alerted to by Sam this morning.  A couple of Lesser Black Backed Gulls were on the lake.  Increasing amount of bird song today.  Windy, but sunny and warm.


Saturday, 13 April 2013

Culture and Birds in Bamburgh and Surrounds

8th-11th April.  Sam and I arrived in Bamburgh at lunchtime and having dropped our possessions off at the 17th century manor house where we stayed for bed and breakfast, we picked up sausage rolls and had lunch, with Bamburgh Castle towering overhead.  We shared crisps with a friendly Rook, began a count of Pied Wagtails, and watched as Fulmers nested under the castle, before heading around to Stag Rock.  The sun was shining, but it was bitter cold in the biting wind.  We had seen Common Buzzard, Kestrel and Lapwing on the journey from Killingworth.

Our sea-watching was rewarding.  Along with our first Shags and Gannets of the year we found the likes of Eider, a large raft of Common Scoter (which we checked for anything more unusual), twenty plus Long-tailed Duck, Red-breasted Merganser, Kittiwake, Guillemot and I’m sure a couple of Puffin.  Other notable birds seen included thirty plus Purple Sandpiper, Skylark and flock of Twite.  As I say, it was bitterly cold and we sought some shelter beside the lighthouse (the most northerly mainland lighthouse in England I believe) and another building.  Grey Seals in some number were seen close to shore.  Our mammal lists are ticking along nicely this year.

Bamburgh Castle

When we returned to the village and dropped the gear off it was about this time that we made our first appearance in the Copper Kettle Tea Rooms.  Incidentally, voted amongst the top twenty tea rooms in the country by the Tea Guild.  Sam and I only go for quality.  After a cuppa and some very nice ice-cream we walked down to the woodland and SSSI area in the dunes below the castle.  We thought this would have been a great area for migrants had the weather of late been more appropriate.  Of course there wasn’t any at all, but we did find Little Grebe, Mute Swan, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye and Moorhen along with tits, finches and the likes of Blackbird.

We had experienced a good start to our trip and we were content when we went to the pub for dinner.  We later sat by the log fire at the manor house attempting to warm up and waiting for complete darkness to set in before going out for some night photography.  Blimey, when we did go out it was more than bitter cold!  Unfortunately the castle wasn’t lit up completely (maybe the electricity bill had not been paid!), but we still managed some photography.  Me continuing my practice sessions!  It was good to warm up a bit by the log fire afterwards.  The manor house where we stayed is a very large and interesting building.  More or less a farm house, and owned by Charles and Barbara Baker-Cresswell.  The family have a military history, and incidentally, the father of Charles was one of the men who were first on the scene when the Enigma Machine was taken from the Germans during World War 11.  This event has since been made into a film by the Americans.  Of course in the film all of the credit wrongly goes to Americans and it has little, if any, basis of fact within it.  Not untypical of American films!  Anyway, sleep was welcome.  I did wake to hear a Tawny Owl during the night.  The next thing I knew the alarm was heralding a new day.

Night shots in Bamburgh with Sam making an appearance.
9th April.  We headed to Spindlestone after breakfast and we were very thankful of a lift from Charles which got us to the area bright and early.  We were greeted by a Red Squirrel and Sam lay out some hazel nuts supplied by Charles.  It was the first of two Red Squirrels seen here today and a good photo opportunity.  Birds seen around the feeding station included Mallard, Moorhen, Sparrowhawk, Pheasant, Wood Pigeon, Great Spotted Woodpecker (pair), Wren, Dunnock, Robin, Song Thrush (H), Blackbird, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Long-tailed Tit, Treecreeper, Chaffinch and Yellowhammer.  Oh yes, and a single Chiffchaff.  We were surprised not to find Nuthatch.  As we walked the area, Roe Deer was seen.
A Red Squirrel greets us.

We took time to explore the area and also visit a family friend of Sam’s.  I enjoyed the cup of coffee.  I’m really surprised that information and reports concerning sightings in this area seem to be so thin on the ground.  It’s a great area and seems to be very well managed. It should be explored more often, and will be in May when we lead our RSPB walk up here.  We walked up to the Lime Kilns and up onto Spindlestone Heugh having recorded both Peregrine Falcon and Sparrowhawk in the wider area.  We found Skylark, Meadow Pipit, Linnet and Pied Wagtail on the Heugh, and also two very large Highland Cattle which we were glad we hadn’t walked into!  There are excellent views both inland and along the coast, although by now the area was clouding over and so the views across Budle Bay and northwards were not as good as they could have been.  It had still been worth the effort to get up the hill.  Now my second exploration of this area has me understanding why Sam has always admired the place.  We managed to avoid the Laidley Worm!  We did find Bumble Bees and several Honey Bee hives seemed very active.  Three Grey Wagtails were found on the burn, but not the hoped for Dipper.

On the Heugh with kilns below.
We eventually got down to Budle Bay to find that the tide was at its highest point, although we still found Shelduck, Wigeon, Eider and a flotilla of nineteen Red-breasted Merganser close to shore at times.  After a bite to eat we followed the coastal path way back to Bamburgh via the golf course and Stag Rock.  We found a nesting/roosting site had been occupied, as could be told from the fresh bird droppings.  I’d found a Little Owl in this very spot many years ago and it may still be used by this species.  The walk included an amusing stop in one of the sea defences that remains from the World War 11.  So amusing, that it will later become a separate blog post.:-)  We did find Stonechat nearby (which seems to be a rarity still these days) and saw Slavonian Grebe on the sea, which was a lifer for Sam and a year tick for me, as was the Stonechat.  More, or possibly the same Red-breasted Mergansers were seen again and Common Scoter was also found.  Mistle Thrush was seen today.  The only waders seen were Oystercatcher, Redshank and Curlew.

By evening we were very tired and decided to give the night photography a miss and concentrated on our bird lists.  We had seen fifty five species today and more Grey Seals had joined the mammal list.  My year list became a bit of a mystery and we decided to try and sort that out the following day, such was our tiredness tonight.

10th April.  Barbara kindly gave us a lift to Seahouses this morning.  It was cold and initially damp.  I still enjoyed the time spent at the harbour and in the mud.  Eiders gave excellent photo opportunities although the Long-tailed Duck was less obliging.  The remains of a dead Puffin and Guillemots were found on the harbour mud.  More Purple Sandpipers were found and Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Turnstone, Bar-tailed Godwit and Rock Pipit were added to our trip list.  After looking around the RNLI Boat house we decided to have a cuppa and then look around ‘the tat’, I mean gift shops.  Do people really buy this stuff?  We hadn’t planned a visit to the Farnes and although the boats were sailing around the islands we thought it not worth going out, such were the conditions.  We have a future planned trip to look forward too.  We returned to Bamburgh and paid another visit to the Copper Kettle Tea Rooms.  We were by now regular patrons here and beginning to feel as though we may have caught an RSPB bug.

In the mud with an Eider.
We walked up to Bamburgh Castle and decided that we might as well pay a visit here.  After all it was a cultural trip we were on.  I enjoyed the time here.  We filled some of the evening in with photography in St Aidan’s Church and decided that we must visit again in the morning.  The church bells were rung as we returned to the manor house after dinner.  I don’t think they were rung with us in mind.  The Rookery was noisy and busy.  I managed to sort out my year list to some extent and found I had missed some birds off.  I still haven’t got round to working out which ones.  Good though that my year list is a little longer than I had thought!

St Aidan's.  I really enjoyed the photography on this trip and there will be more to come on the blog next week.
It seemed a little warmer this evening!

11th April.  Sadly this was our last morning in Bamburgh, but we made the most of it by re visiting the church with photography in mind.  Church life was quite frantic this morning with a window being removed and much work on the flower arranging.  Nothing got in the way of the photography however and this is to be the subject of another blog post in the future.  Afterwards we had a walk down to the castle for a last look at the Fulmers there.  We found numbers of Linnet.  A walk was also taken in the dune area before we returned for cuppa in the Copper Kettle.  I bet they are missing our custom today!

Sam and I had a great trip and a lot of laughs.  Our trip bird list came to a nice round seventy species with Red Squirrel, Roe Deer and Grey Seal too.  Not at all bad for a trip that was not simply focused on bird watching.  Thankfully the rain on the whole had kept away.  My thanks to Sam for the great company, help with the photography and lots of laughs, and my thanks too, to his mam for the lifts.:-)  It had been a five star trip with a stay in very interesting accommodation and with a very warm welcome.

We head for the uplands on Saturday.  This time with the RSPB. More tea drinking expected, but this time not by Sam and I, as we wish to retain some resemblance to hardcore birders.