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!
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.