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.

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