Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Birds in Northumbria

Birds in Northumbria

31st July.  Well another month ends having provided some very nice highlights (often in the sun) including my only lifer of the year so far, the Bridled Tern on the Farne Islands, a great day a Smardale surrounded by butterflies, probably my best ever Nightjar experience and great evenings at Holywell watching waders and the juvenile Marsh Harrier.

During the past couple of days I’ve been sorting out literature that I have collected over the years from the Natural History Society of Northumbria and I came across an annual report, Birds in Northumbria 1978.  I must have been sent that by the society I think, as I had no link to the bird club until recent years.  It was interesting to note the names of contributors, several who are still around, although a little more mature!  Even more interesting, was to compare some of the comments about species and try and balance the losses and gains.  I’ve noted down some of the comments and sightings below;

Little Egret.  An extremely rare visitor.  It was seen at Holywell on 6th May and was only the third record for Northumberland.

Whooper Swan.  90 were at Holywell on 1st January and this declined to 18 by 1st April.

Goosander.  None reported at Killingworth Lake.  (A regular wintering spot now for a number of years)

Red Kite.  A rare visitor.  One seen at Woolsingham 0n 4th March and a second bird was at Holywell for three days and then seen at Gosforth Park from 17th December.  These were 6th and 7th records for the county.

Common Buzzard.  A rare breeder and uncommon visitor.  A handful of sightings of single birds.  (I do still occasionally come across folk who are shocked to find Common Buzzards in the east).

Osprey.  A rare visitor.

Purple Sandpiper. Populations of 150-200 and 250-350 early and late in the year.

Mediterranean Gull.  A rare visitor.  Records of single birds only.

Roseate Tern.  17 pairs nested on the Farnes and 29 pairs on Coquet Island.

Nightjar.  A rare summer visitor which breeds irregularly

Hawfinch.  A rare resident breeding species and passage visitor.  Never the less up to 6 reported in Jesmond Dene.   Other breeding season reports from Stocksfield, Morpeth, Corbridge, Hulne Park, Plessey Woods and Meldon.  Winter reports included 10 at Stocksfield on 30th March and 20 on 11th October.  Birds were present in Kielder where a juvenile was taken by a Sparrowhawk and 2 were seen on Holy Island on 6th and 7th May during passage.

Snow Bunting.  A well represented passage and winter visitor.  Reports included 150 at Hauxley/Druridge, up to 50 at Chevington, 50 at Derwent reservoir, and three flocks of up to 20 were at other coastal sites.  30 were at Killingworth 13th and 15th December!

Corn Bunting.  A well represented resident breeder.  The decline in this species was noted, but 30 were reported at Chevington Burn, 21 at Amble and 15 at Druridge.

I’m sure I can pick out many more interesting points, especially amongst the warblers, but I won’t bore you anymore.  I’m passing on my report and several others to someone I know will look after it and find it interesting.

I checked out the lake again today.  The traffic was being held up the whole time I was down there because of Mute Swans crossing the road in Mute Swan time i.e. their own time.  Most drivers if not all, seem to take this with a smile.:-)  I counted 116 Canada Geese and probably missed a few.  I suspect a few local inhabitants will not be pleased as I note that the geese do not understand that they are meant to keep off the grass! :-)  Several Common Terns were active and the lone Goosander remains.

The sun was long gone by the time I was around to the insect patch so there were few butterflies about, although I did see the odd Meadow Brown, Small White and Green Veined White.  Earlier in the day I had seen several white species in the garden including a female Orange Tip.  I had to check on this latter species for dates, but see that there is sometimes a second emergence in July and August.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Triple Green

25th July.  Leaving Killingworth just after 3:00pm saw the temperatures reaching 27C so I was pleased to reach St Mary’s Island and find a cool refreshing breeze bringing down the heat.  As Ella Fitzgerald would have said it was just ‘Too darn hot’.  By the way, for younger readers Ella was a singer and star of the past, and not a member of the BBC weather team.

Terns caught the attraction as much as anything else today with large numbers of Sandwich, the odd Arctic and numbers of Common Tern making an appearance.  No Roseate Terns seen, but I’m sure it won’t be long before they are showing up on the rocks.  Sam and I caught a brief sighting of two Arctic Skuas chasing after the terns.  I understand that there had been three skuas present.  We were unable to locate the summer plumage Knots and by the time we got to Seaton Sluice the tide was high so the rocks there were covered.  We did find summer plumage Turnstones and Dunlin.  Oystercatcher, Redshank and Curlew were also noted before we spotted the flocks of Golden Plover flying in.  Skylarks were heard over the fields.  The overgrown wetland was very quiet.

Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly
After a meal (fish and chips as tasty as ever) we once again set off for Holywell.  The heat was building up again.  I managed to photograph Small Tortoiseshell Butterfly, although butterflies had been quite scarce.  I seem to remember that we recorded Small White, Green Veined White  Small Skipper and Meadow Brown.  I have read in one or two places that this has been a great year for butterflies.  Not sure that I agree with that, and in any event it'll take far more than a few hot summer days to make up for past losses!  So I for one ain't getting excited!  There had been numbers of Burnet Moths in flight in the grassland by the cliffs.  I did notice that the salt-marsh area was as flooded as I can eve remember seeing it.  The dene was very quiet once again.  I suggested to Sam that we needed to find something interesting and I mentioned Green Sandpipers.  I was reminded later that I had mentioned this three times which turned out to be an omen of good fortune.

Well, what should we find at Holywell Pond, but Green Sandpipers, three of them in fact!  A very nice find, following our successful visit last week.  I note that Green Sandpipers seem to be popping up in a numbers of spots in Northumberland.  The birds showed really well from the public hide.  Together in a group at times and calling.  We also found a summer plumage Knot which made up for any missed at the coast.  There were about twenty-five Lapwing present along with a couple of Curlews.  The only blot on the evening was the stink caused by the hide having been used as a urinal (any self respecting person would simply find a tree to go behind in my opinion).  Last week it was a bag of dog crap!  Goodness knows what we are going to stumble across in there next.  Perhaps I ought to carry a bottle of disinfectant with me when out birding!  Anyway, I wasn’t going to let it spoil the sightings.  Sedge Warbler was heard.

With the place to ourselves once again, we stayed at Holywell until about 9:00pm and it was another wonderful evening.  The heat and humidity of the day has become a bit tiresome, but the evenings are definitely to be enjoyed.

Common Tern
26th July.  I had inside information from Sam as to exactly what time the Red Arrows were arriving today so I took a walk down to the lake hoping to catch a glimpse.  I practiced a few shots of Common Terns in flight as I waited.  They were bringing food to juvenile birds.  I also noticed the Shoveller.  I watched a few aircraft in the distance before watching the Red Arrows fly in as a group and then individually.  So if yesterday was green, today was red.

A Red Arrow flypast for Killy Birder.  I can say with some certainty if you keep a look out there will be far better images on the way, but not from me!  Very nice to see though, none the less.
Earlier in the week Sam and I had attended a very nice evening at the Hancock for the two hour presentation on the Tyneside Kittiwakes.  We really enjoyed the talks especially that from John Coulson who has studied the Tyneside Kittiwakes for over sixty years.  Now I reckon anyone who puts that time and interest in, has certainly earned the title of ornithologist.  John’s years of work are recoded in his book, The Kittiwake.  I did think it unfortunate that there wasn’t more of an audience for this one.  I had thought that there would be far more interest shown in our local bird colonies.  We’d earlier enjoyed a look around the Hancock.  We had our tea as the rain hit the city flooding the road outside.  Afterwards it was another wonderful evening and I made one or two discoveries as we walked around the area of the Civic Centre.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Just Another Evening at Holywell

17th July.  Despite the cold and sometimes icy conditions, I confess that I prefer bird watching in winter.  I have a passion for geese and waders and winter is often the best time to watch them in what is often better light.  I also take into account that there are often fewer people about and therefore it’s simply more peaceful, even if standing in gale force winds and cursing the freezing cold.  I do have to admit that British summer evenings do have a good deal of appeal too, especially when the weather has been as it has for the past few weeks.  I was out again this evening and was well rewarded on my St Mary’s Island to Holywell walk.

Sam and I welcomed the cooling breeze as we set off from St Mary’s Island just before teatime when there were still numbers of bodies lying about the beach.  A Kestrel immediately caught the eye.  It wasn’t long until we were watching summer plumage Golden Plovers flying in small flocks.  Perhaps just arriving back to over winter we wondered?  Only the odd Lapwing, Oystercatchers and Turnstones added to the wader list here.  Sandwich Terns flew over the sea and Skylark and Meadow Pipit sang above the fields.  The buildings on the island were at times covered in Starlings.  Insects in the meadow land above the cliff included large numbers of Burnet Moths and Soldier Beetles, but surprisingly few butterflies, which were in the main Meadow Browns and the odd Small Tortoiseshell.  A four spot Ladybird was also found.  The occasional Fulmer flew along the edge of the cliff and one Fulmer appeared as if still on a nest on the cliff side.  Sand Martins were seen, as were Gannets as we watched from Seaton Sluice.  There were lots of House Martins flying near the cliffs.

A few of the Starlings gathering on the island.

Soldier Beetles doing what they do.
We had our tea before setting off to walk through Holywell Dene.  We found white species of butterfly along with single Small Tortoiseshell, Red Admiral and Ringlet.  I don’t remember seeing Ringlet here before, but I’m aware that it is a species that is spreading its range.  Once again the majority of butterflies were Meadow Browns.  The burn was low and the walk tiring in places, as in this direction it tends to be uphill.  I couldn’t help wonder why people want to run in such heat (can’t be good for you), but obviously many do!  If I had been as red in the face as one of these guys running I would have taken it as a sign to lie down and rest.  There was little bird life found, although a few Chiffchaffs continue to call and Stock Dove was seen.  It was a pleasant walk as always.  A Common Hawker Dragonfly hawked around us, coming up close to suss us out at times.  I heard its wings buzzing around my head on several occasions.  I’d been a little surprised once again to see no sign of odonata near to the dipping pools.

We eventually arrived at Holywell Pond and a sit in the hide was more than welcome.  We spent the rest of the evening until about 9:00pm in this area.  We saw no other bird watchers.  A small wader took me a little by surprise until I worked out it was a juvenile Dunlin (no telescope with me).  There were three Oystercatchers in the same area, which were enjoying a bathe in the pond, and a family of Pied Wagtails.  Sedge Warblers sang from the reeds.  The Common Terns were active and appear to be successfully raising young.  Black Headed Gulls were numerous and there was one or two Lesser Black Backed Gulls.  Birds on the pond included Little Grebe, Mallard, Pochard, Tufted Duck, Moorhen and Coot.  Grey Herons called and were eventually seen.

Sam and I eventually moved to the members hide.  This had been a decision taken at a good time as it wasn’t long before we were watching a juvenile Marsh Harrier that had risen from the reed bed.  A beauty of a bird in pristine condition, with that cream head showing so well in the clear light.   It flew over the edge of the reeds at the west end of the pond for a time before flying down the edge of the reed-bed almost the length of the pond, then returning and flying off behind the hide.  It did return again and showed very well as it was mobbed by gulls.  It eventually flew at tree top level on the north side of the pond before flying behind these trees.  We saw no more of it.  At this point in time we heard Curlews calling and watched as they appeared to land at the other rend of the pond.  They were soon followed by two Black-tailed Godwits.  We decided to return to the scrape as it seemed there might be some action there.  We found the juvenile Dunlin was still there along with seven Oystercatchers and the two Curlew and two Black-tailed Godwits.  The Godwits, one of them seeming much larger than the other, stood together in full summer plumage.  Their reflections showed well in the still water of the pond.  It would have made an excellent photographic image, but sadly just too far away for our equipment to do that justice.

Juvenile Marsh Harrier makes an appearance.
By now the sun was turning the sky red and we decided to take a quick walk to the open field just to check for owls.  Unfortunately we didn’t find any.  We did find the Common Nettles were covered by caterpillars.  Black and spiky caterpillars of the Peacock Butterfly.  I estimated that there must have been over one hundred of them in a small area.  On close inspection you can se that the spikes have smaller spikes along their length, so I assume they are very well protected from predators.  I’m sure something must eat them and would like to know how they manage this.  The caterpillars were busy munching their way through the Common Nettles, the regular food for these larvae.

Peacock Butterfly caterpillars show their defences!
By now the air was humid and heavy and attracting clouds of Midges.  Walking through these clouds they were getting into our eyes and we kept our mouths shut!  When we retraced our steps I noticed these clouds were even denser and covering the fields on both side of us.  Thankfully by the time we were back near to the pond the clouds had thinned out.  We took one last look at the pond before making for home.  Once again Holywell had delivered.  We’d had another great evening in a wonderful area.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Parrots and a Macaw

Below are some images from recent trips.  The Scarlet Macaw of Kirby Stephen and the Puffin or Sea Parrot, of the Farne Islands.

The logic behind the naming of birds is not always easy to follow.  The Puffin of course gets its vernacular name of Sea Parrot from the nature of its bill.  It’s common English naming and scientific naming is a little more difficult to understand.  I took the following information from Wikipedia……….

‘’The scientific name Fratercula comes from the Medieval Latin fratercula, friar, a reference to the black and white plumage which resembles monastic robes. The specific name arctica refers to the northerly distribution of the bird, being derived from the Greek ‘arktos’, the bear, referring to the northerly constellation, the Great Bear.  The vernacular name puffin – puffed in the sense of swollen – was originally applied to the fatty, salted meat of young birds of the unrelated species Manx Shearwater (Puffinus puffinus) which in 1652 was known as the ‘Manks Puffin’.  It is an Anglo-Norman word used for cured carcasses.  The Atlantic Puffin aquired the name at a much later stage, possibly because of its similar nesting habits, and it was formally applied to Fratercula arctica by Pennant in 1768’’

Saturday, 13 July 2013

Friends, Butterflies and Nightjars

11th/12th July.  With the sun shining and the temperatures rising Sam and I decided to visit Wylam on Thursday.  Our walk was along the river before getting up onto the chalk hill of the Spetchells for a lunch break.  I’ve said much about the history of this area in the past, so won’t repeat myself here.  I was reminded today of just how pleasant the banks of the River Tyne can be.  As the train had crossed the bridge over the Tyne I watched as a Sparrowhawk flew below.

We watched for Kingfisher from Points Bridge with no success, so instead settled for listening to the calls of a Common Buzzard and Jays.  We’d earlier watched a family of four Goosanders on the river and listened to Blackcap, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff.

It was a hot day so one to be taken slowly.  Butterflies were every where around the Spetchells and meadows below.  They were in the main Meadow Browns and Ringlets, with the odd white species and Small Skipper also being seen.  They were so active that it was very frustrating at times attempting any photographs.  I found it easier to collect images of the numerous Speckled Wood Butterflies seen on our return walk as they flew and at times settled in dappled sunlight.  Having been encouraged to make more use of my manual settings on the camera I am finding this most rewarding when seeing the end product and realising just how much extra control this gives you.  Having visited a little later than last year we found the display of plants on the Spetchells more interesting with Common Centaury and Musk Thistle being notable finds.

Speckled Wood Butterfly
Before catching the train back to Newcastle (fare cheaper than the return fare from Killingworth to Newcastle by bus!) we popped along to George Stephenson Cottage for a drink and an ice-cream.  Blimey I was hot by now!

Ringlet Butterfly

Musk Thistle

Common Centaury
The temperatures on Thursday had been high, by Friday they were damn well oppressive, with a storm seeming likely.  Now if it had rained heavily on Friday night I would not have been surprised as plans had been made to visit Slaley Forest for some Nightjarring.  I’ve been soaked once or twice on such visits.  Sam and I went along with two friends from the local group.  I was fearful that the insects would be out in force so suggested that we spend the early part of the evening along the banks of the Tyne at Corbridge.  It was a beautiful evening, with good light and by 6:00pm a light cooling breeze which was much needed

Swifts, Sand Martins, Swallows and House Martins were soon found and we had a fly past by a Kingfisher just before Sam got his eye on a pair of Common Sandpipers seconds after I had mentioned that the area was ideal habitat for them.  We also counted fourteen Goosanders resting on the rocks alongside Mallards.  A Kestrel gave good sightings and the area seemed to be alive with Yellowhammers.  Skylarks sang and an Oystercatcher was heard calling.  Blackcap and Siskin were seen briefly.  We sat on the remains of the old Roman Bridge and had a tea break as the sun began to drop in the sky.  We then took a pleasant drive to Slaley Forest, going by the scenic route!  I think it was around now that we found Common Buzzard.

Thankfully on arrival we found that the insect hordes that we had expected hadn’t gathered in any number.  I wasn’t going to hold back on the use of the Avon Skin so Soft which has recently been kindly given to me.  My thinking was that if I was bitten and ended up looking like a pizza, at least I’d smell nice! 

Instead of walking onto the moors we made straight for my regular Nightjar site, Sam finding Redstart on the way.  Two other small passerines remain unidentified, but we thought they might be Tree Pipits.  On reaching the regular site we found that growth over recent years has been fast.  It wasn’t too long before Sam picked up the distant churring of Nightjars.  The churring gradually built up and seemed to move closer and become more consistent.  At the same time were also listening to the calls of Tawny Owl and Red Grouse.  A Nightjar made a fleeting appearance as it flew over the trees.  If things had ended there I would have counted it as a successful evening.  Better was to come.

As we began a slow walk back to where the car was parked another Nightjar was seen briefly and the churring was getting louder and louder all of the time.  This sound for me is even better than actually catching sight of the bird itself.  As we walked we tried to avoid standing on Frogs/Toads crossing the footpath.  Another brief sighting was made before we heard a bird calling and then saw it flying (and still calling) towards us along the line of the pathway.  It quickly disappeared but we could follow the track of the calling for some seconds afterwards.  Soon after this Sam spotted the silhouette of a Nightjar perched on a low tree.  We all had good sightings of this bird and then watched it fly off.  Well done Sam, as this was his first Nightjar excursion and the species was a lifer for him.  By now the churring of the birds was as loud and as close as I have ever heard.

We moved on and heard the droning of an engine or generator.  We had no idea what this could be.  I then heard distant voices.  We had just spoken of not ever wanting to do this walk alone at night so it all felt a little spooky and a few suggestions were made as to what we might come across.  We saw that we were approaching bright lights.  It eventually dawned on us that we were approaching a large moth trapping exercise.  We stopped for a chat and a look at some of the moths.  It was now 11:15pm and I think these two guys were planning on being around until about   1.00am.  Moving away from the extremely bright light made it seem very dark indeed.  In fact it wasn’t.

By now I was feeling a little cooler which was a relief after the heat of the day.  It had been a great way to spend an evening.  With a summer evening like this who would want to be anywhere else?  It had certainly been my best ever Nightjar event with sightings of at least five separate birds I believe.  It had been an ideal night for the excursion and I had avoided being bitten.  Thank you Avon, and thank you Eileen. :-)  My thanks to Sam, Carmel and Marie for the great company.  It was Saturday when I got home having seen a Tawny Owl on the way.  Did I hear anyone suggest that July isn't a good time for birding?

Tuesday, 9 July 2013

Connecting with Birds and Lowlife

8th July.  Sam and I had made another date with a couple of birds at the Rising Sun Country Park and thankfully they didn’t let us down today, although I have to say they remained distant throughout our encounter.  We simply put this down to shyness and not wishing to be in the public eye.  Having ensured that we also made contact with Stan the Stag, we devoted much of the rest of our time to the low life of the park, and rumour has it that there is a good deal of low life to be found here.  Some images of the low life are added below.  With the morning being humid, but cloudy, we had some chances of capturing images of the Common Blue Butterflies without too much difficulty as they awaited the sun.  As the day went on, things got more difficult.  Anyone who says that macro photography is easy and without frustration has obviously never attempted to do any!  It is very rewarding when one manages to capture a decent image.  The birds weren’t forgotten altogether and we had Common Whitethroats and Reed Buntings singing nearby.  Other warblers heard were Blackcap, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff.  A Sparrowhawk was heard briefly as we headed to the café for lunch and during lunch Mistle Thrushes come to join us.

Sam lends a hand.

Tangled in webbing this Common Blue isn't going anywhere.

This Common Blue had warmed up and was soon on the wing

Still waiting

One of the three waiting to warm up.
After lunch we headed to Holywell where it was good to see so much work had been put into structures to attract bees.  Northumberland Wildlife Trust reserves are not all about rare birds, but sometimes when I note comments made in certain places it would seem that some think they ought to be.  Thankfully even the RSPB is attempting to shake off the image that it is ‘just about birds’.  All of nature needs a helping hand and that means action by individuals.

Meadow Brown

Proving an attraction.
We noted some of the birds which had visited the pond area recently, but have to say it was fairly quiet today.  The lake pond was perfectly still and I commented to Sam about just how much I like the atmosphere down here when there are few people about.  There were approaching forty Lapwings near to the public hide and something seemed to be agitating one of the Grey Herons which was making much noise.  Sam looked down to find someone had dropped their bag of dog crap behind the seat in the hide.  I can only assume that such people do the same in their homes!  Swallows, House Martins, Sand Martins and Swifts were all seen.  Skylarks and Sedge Warblers sang as did Yellowhammers which were seen well on top of the hedges at the avenue.  We listened to Garden Warbler singing before we entered the dene.  This was near the spot where I had seen Garden Warbler last year.

These Burnet Moths were very flighty in the now hot sun.
The dene itself offered some respite from the now hot sun and numerous Speckled Wood Butterflies flew along the length of the burn.

One of many Speckled Wood Butterflies
This Muscovy Duck proved to be very friendly. 
We hadn’t any definite plan so we decided to walk to Seaton Sluice, thinking that the pools on the way would be proving attractive to odonata.  All we found were Common Blue and Blue-tailed Damselflies, although an unidentified dragonfly had shown at Holywell Pond.  I was surprised that there was so little about.  In any event it was a good walk and we ended the afternoon with a trip to the fish and chip café as Gannets passed close to land.  Lots of laughs and a very good day in the sun.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

Butterflies and Macaws

6th July.  I’d been looking forward to a return to Smardale, Cumbria for sometime so it was a pleasing to find the sun shining as Sam and I left Newcastle with the RSPB Local Group today.  It was good also to find a fellow blogger joining the trip.  It’s a nice drive to Kirby Stephen and Common Snipe were seen at the same area we had sighted them last week on our return from Martin Mere.  The short rest stop at Kirby Stephen was eventful with much colour being added to the morning as the Feral Scarlet Macaws flew across the High Street  and perched on chimney stacks and aerials, perhaps providing our ‘bird of the day!’  They certainly surprised a few members of the group.  There’s lots of information on the internet about the history of these birds.  It’s the first time I have actually seen the Kirby Stephen birds, which provided a rather different, but no less appealing sight than the birds I have seen flying through rainforest.

Cor! there's a Macaw!  Scarlet Macaws
The walk I know had been very carefully planned and covered a different area from a previous visit and allowed much better viewing opportunities down the valley in the direction of the very spectacular fourteen arched Smardale Gill Viaduct.  Whilst bird sightings were as expected rather limited, they did include the likes of Common Buzzard, Sparrowhawk, Redstart, Spotted Flycatcher and Tree Pipit., although I admit the latter bird was seen only briefly in flight by me.  Blackcap and Willow Warbler were also seen and everyone had the chance to practice Garden Warbler song recognition, although no one actually saw the bird as far as I’m aware.

It seemed appropriate that there were plenty of Sun Flies about today.
The limestone area virtually guaranteed a good botanical display and I wish I’d had more time to study some of it, especially the many orchids which I assumed were in the main were of the common spotted type.  There were some very nice specimens.  Some others that stay in the memory were Jacob’s Ladder, Birdseye Primrose and carpets of Rockrose in the area of the old quarry.

Melancholy Thistle
With the temperature high, full sun and a peak in floral display I was hoping for lots of butterflies for which this year has so far disappointed.  I had assumed we would be too early for the Scotch Argus Butterfly, but thought we would catch the beginning of the flight period for Dark Green Fritillary.  As it happens we found no fritillaries at all, but did think we had caught a glimpse of the Scotch Argus, but maybe this was wishful thinking.  In any event I couldn’t confirm the latter butterfly, but can confirm nine other species seen often in large numbers.  As I began the walk I was wondering if we were to be disappointed by little in the way of butterflies and then we began to find Common Blue Butterflies.  This species was without doubt the most abundant today.  Other species definitely seen were Large White, Small White, Small Skipper, Painted Lady, Ringlet, Meadow Brown, Small Heath and Northern Brown Argus.  A full hot sun meant that the butterflies were on the whole very active and those trying for photographs had to be very patient.

Common Blue Butterfly (male)

Common Blue Butterfly (female)

Common Blue Butterfly (male)

Sam took a hike up to the top of the old Limestone Quarry for photographs whilst I took a slightly easier option and sat down for my lunch.  Such were the numbers of butterflies, it’s a wonder I didn’t get indigestion as I kept jumping up to try to get a better look.  Rock Rose was everywhere in this area and thus we had the best sightings of Northern Brown Argus here as their larvae feed exclusively on the Rock Rose.  Full marks to those able to identify this rather small, and in flight rather moth like butterfly.  The one Painted Lady Butterfly was found at the end of the walk and this was my second only sighting of this species this year.  Nine species in total so the Scotch Argus or Fritillary would have had us in double figures.  The odd dragonflies seen appeared to be hawkers.

Northern Brown Argus
On the return walk we had excellent views along the valley towards the Smardale Gill Viaduct.  It was in this area we found the Redstart, Spotted Flycatcher and Sparrowhawk as Swifts flew overhead.  The group by now had left bird watching behind and were paying studious attention to Fish Watching from the eighteenth century packhorse bridge (I do wonder what this bridge may have seen over the years).  Small fish were packed together near the reeds at the side of the beck.  Members are in need of some fish identification skills as I heard numerous suggestions as to species and noted that no agreement was reached.  Frogs and Toads were found and I believe a few members found Brown Hare and Roe Deer.

This Frog has evolved a wonderful camouflage.

A true naturalist at Smardale Gill Viaduct

Fantastic vista looking back towards the viaduct.
As we headed back towards the A685 (I’d recommend this as the starting point for the walk as if you don’t want to walk the whole round trip this is without doubt the best area to be in) I noted that I was not the only one feeling tiredness in the heat of the day.  Our walk leader had wisely included an ending with a teashop, so whilst I can’t say it put a spring in the step of many, it did get them back in plenty of time!  Sam and I preferred to carry on the photography and settled for a double cream ice cream and coke somewhat on the hoof at the end.

Fish watch from eighteenth century horse-pack bridge

Sam and I come almost to the end of the walk and meet a Painted Lady
It had been a well reccy’d and planned trip (gotta say that, as the leader of it reads my blog:-)) and happily on the outward journey only included a rest stop of ten minutes.  Plenty of time for the necessary, although those who were hoping to fill up on late breakfasts of bacon sandwiches and to read the Guardian should have known better.  Sam and I are hoping to get this stop down to seven minutes when we lead the trip to Loch Ken and the Red Kite Station in Dumfries in November.  Great opportunities for photography up at the Red Kite Station so if you’re interested just get in touch and let me see the colour of your cash.

A great day in great surroundings with much history and industrial archaeology and with the added benefit of habitat encouraging the wildlife.  The day began so well with the Scarlet Macaws and of course the sunshine helped.  Sam and I left feeling we wanted to return soon.