Sunday, 27 October 2013

Hen Harrier and Holy Island Trip

One of the great pleasures of bird watching is coming across the unexpected, especially when such moments can be shared with a like minded person.  Earlier in the year Sam and I had been talking about Hen Harriers after Sam had been lucky enough to watch a ringtail flying close by an Osprey nest in Scotland.  His experience had made me a little envious (harriers are my favourite species along with owls, this week anyway :-)), although Sam was still anxious to see his first male Hen Harrier.  I didn’t think he would have too long as I felt he would come across a male sooner than later when in Scotland.  This week I have experienced one of my best ever sightings of a male Hen Harrier and I’m pleased that I was able to share the experience in Northumberland with Sam.   Certainly having watched the bird at length (Sam was able to get a number of record images), it is one of my top ten birding experiences of the year.  Because of the delicate nature of this species plight, I have decided not to use the image on my blog that Sam passed to me, but rather use an image that shows exactly how Sam felt having found such a magnificent species.  As it happens we are attending a talk in November given by the RSPB concerning the ‘Skydancer Project’ and Hen Harriers.  I wonder how many people in England who are not keen birdwatchers are actually aware of the ‘Skydancer Project’.  In fact I bet there are a few keen birders who aren’t that clued up!

Just seen a Hen Harrier!

26th Oct.  It was the local group annual trip to Holy Island today and although cloudy as we left the city, the torrential downpour of the previous evening was behind us.  The clouds thinned as we approached the island and the light seemed to be immediately above it.  I felt it was going to be another atmospheric trip to one of the most atmospheric areas in Northumberland.

We’d counted over one hundred Pheasants as we headed north and also caught site of a covey of six Grey Partridge.  We crossed the still wet causeway and found a Merlin sitting on top of a post.  Waders fed nearby the causeway as the tide withdrew.  Once out of the coach members were soon watching a Great Spotted Woodpecker in the trees by the coach-park.  Unfortunately Sam and I couldn’t sight it, but once around the corner and heading into the village we had two Great Spotted Woodpeckers on the stone wall close by us.  We headed for what we know from experience is a good vantage point across the bay.

A very confiding Robin

 The atmosphere now was increasing, with the sounds of calling Grey Seals beginning to lie out on the wet sands, and calling Eider Ducks.  The white shape of swans in the distance soon grabbed our attention and we found that we had eight Whooper Swans.  A great start for Sam who had his favourite species right away.  What seemed to be the entire island population of Brent Geese soon had our attention and although distance and light made it difficult to confirm, we are quite sure that there were some dark bellied sub species in amongst the large numbers of pale bellied sub species.  Small skeins of the Brents flew past us on a number of occasions and formed a flock nearby.  Again lighting conditions made photography difficult.  In the distance we could see a massive flock of Wigeon.  A flock of Knot flashed in the sun as they flew over the bay.  In front of the geese we reckon that the flock of Golden Plover amounted to between 2,500 to 3,000 birds.  They were quite a spectacle when they all lifted.  In front of the Golden Plover were large numbers of Bar-tailed Godwit which lifted too and flew to a more distant area.  Such was the pleasure in watching the flocks of geese and waders we stayed in this one spot far longer than we had planned.  The usual Red-breasted Mergansers were in the water below us.  We eventually said goodbye to the very confiding Robin which at times was at our feet and we made for the area near St Cuthbert’s Island.

A few of the Brent Geese
We again watched the flock of Brent Geese which were close by.  Any decision about attempting to get closer for photographs was soon made for us as some dog owner allowed their ‘pet’ down into the area and frighten off the geese and any waders that were nearby.  I expected dog owners might have a little more sense and respect when on the island, but sadly my expectations are clearly misplaced as far as some are concerned!  There were more Red-breasted Mergansers nearby.

We visited the viewing tower which hadn’t been quite finished on our visit last year.  That extra height really does add a great deal to the vista.  Unfortunately we didn’t find very much apart from Eider Ducks and Cormorants on the water and in any event it was so warm in there that the scope steamed up!.  I think it is the first time I haven’t found Red-throated Diver here.  One or two of out group members did find a distant Salvonian Grebe later.  Thankfully we weren’t troubled anymore during the day by thoughtless dog owners and we headed for the harbour where we found Oystercatchers, Dunlin, Turnstone and Rock Pipits.  A few landscape images were taken before we visited the new building overlooking the Rocket Field.  Numbers of Teal were surrounding the pools.

 The scope was dropped off before we headed down the Straight Lonnen where we spent some time admiring the farmyard ‘chicken’ collection which includes some stunning birds.  We soon had our second brief sighting of Merlin (a new species for the year list) and a brief sighting of a small number of Fieldfare (my first of the autumn).  As we sat down and took a break for lunch we watched five Roe Deer across the fields.  Skylark, Meadow Pipits and large numbers of Curlew were in the area as was at least one Kestrel.  I got my eye on what I put down as a flock of Linnet, but later having spoken to another member who had been able to take a closer look it seems that they were Twite.  I believe we had missed a Blackcap as we were probably to busy admiring chickens.  On the whole there were few small passerines about and certainly nothing that anyone would mark down as a rarity, which to be honest didn’t concern us at all.  Whilst I appreciate we all have our different focus, having read recent threads on a certain forum concerning mad dashes to Shetland and elsewhere for twitching purposes, I feel I have nothing what so ever in common with the folk involved in this type of birding.  Much more my style is a relaxed day on Holy Island.

'Like me haircut?'
The pond was fairly quiet, although the hide was chockaa.  Teal, (although not the large flocks I had seen there last year) were about, as was a single Shoveler.  I got my eye on four overhead Whooper Swans.  By now the warmth of the day was vanishing and being replaced by cold air which seemed more suitable for the time of year.  We found out that some members had sighted a pod of Dolphins of the coast (probably Bottled-nosed Dolphins).  Well, we’d had the pleasure of Dolphins last year so were where happy with our sightings this time around.

We stopped of at Budle Bay on the way home taking in the best of the light before darkness began to set in.  The highlight was the stunning sight of a Little Egret in bright sunlight and image reflected in the water.  I added Shelduck and Grey Plover (I’d overlooked the ones on the island) to my day list.

We headed for home as the sun lowered, but still shone on Holy Island.  I fell asleep for a few minutes on the coach.  A great day, as always.

1 comment:

  1. Yep it was a great day! My first Hen Harrier for a long while and probably my very best sighting of it.