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?


  1. Yeah July has been a very good month for birding so far! It helps when we have the weather, lol.

    Sounds like it was a fab night, I wish I could have joined you all.

    1. Yes, a perfect night for listening to and watching Nightjars. These nights need to be taken up, as in recent years this time of year has proved to be wet (not that I personally mind a drop of rain:-)). Hopefully breeding will have been helped by the dry weather.

  2. Yeah, hopefully the dry weather has done that. Hopefully I can accompany you the next time you watch them.