Monday, 30 December 2013

A Year (2013) in the Life of........

You may not want to believe it, but another year has come and almost gone.  Once again I finish the year looking back on some memorable moments.

Wettest Moments.  These were without a shadow of a doubt the time I spent up in Teesdale in May!  Could it really have been so wet and cold in May?  Yes it certainly could, and having spent time in the area of Widdybank Farm and  High Force I was as near to being hypothermic as I have ever been.  Never the less some good birding included Black Grouse, Ring Ouzel and twenty minute watch through the falling snow (yes snow) of a male Redstart.  This was the day Sam was awarded his well deserved All Weather Birder title.  I still remember the comment from one lady ‘has it been raining’ she said in serious mode.  I let the rain drip from my body parts before considering an answer.

Coldest Moments.  See above.  Almost as cold, but at least not wet was the night in April that Sam and I stepped out into the streets of Bamburgh to take some night images.  Blimey was I glad to get back to the log fire that night.  Then I went to bed which I found almost as cold as the streets of Bamburgh.  Some great birding during the few days we stayed in the area, but it was hard to believe it was spring and there was certainly no sign of spring migrants which had wisely decided to stay on the continent!

Hottest Moments.  There were quite a few during a wonderful summer which provided us all with a great year for the butterfly watching.  One of the most memorable days was when Sam led us on a walk at Spindlestone and we ended the day on the Heugh with at least one member of the group falling asleep in the sunshine.  We didn’t come across that rancid beast The Laidley Worm of Spindlestone Heugh, but we did walk into a couple of Highland Cattle with gigantic horns!  I thought of the Corporal in Dad’s Army when thinking ‘they would not like it up ‘em!  My lasting memories of the day include the many singing warblers (including my only Wood Warbler of the year) and Yellowhammers.  A great day.  I seem to remember another very hot day was had in Smardale and the butterflies were out in force that day.  I did not half enjoy my Coke at the end of that walk!

Windiest Moments.  This has to be the walk around Holy Island with Andy S in January.  We’d just watched the Cattle Egret (one of three egret species I’ve seen in Northumberland this year).  Red-necked Grebe was found at Stag Rock on our return.

Muddiest Moments.  Definitely these were spent in Seahouses harbour with the Eider Ducks having earlier watched the Long Tailed Duck.  At least we managed not to fall in.

Find of the Year.  Without a doubt the walks at Spindlestone.  I’d only visited the area once before and can’t help but think that the locals keep quite about this area and its wildlife.  It’s the only spot that I have watched Red Squirrels this year.  I’ll definitely be back having spent a good few hours there during the year.

Biggest Laugh of the Year.  This was had during our mini break in Bamburgh.  The finding of the World War 2 bunker led to plans to establish our Bunker Birder Tours.  Well OK, you had to be there to understand the mirth as to what we would do to anyone trying to muscle into our patch.  Anyway whilst all of this was going on we did find a Slavonian Grebe travelling north on the sea, which I seem to remember was a lifer for Sam.  We wondered later if the two folk sat outside of the bunker had sent for men in white coats.  Anyway Bunker Birder Tours are still available for 2014, although such has been the demand Sam and I have decided to up the price for any late comers.

Most Surreal Moments.  This was also in the running for my evening of the year.  It was a hot dry night at Slaley searching for Nightjars.  It’s not often I go there and come home hot, dry and unbitten but I did this year!  This was probably my best ever Nightjar evening and Sam, Carmel, Marie and myself had some really good sightings.  A Kingfisher kicked off the evening at Corbridge and there were Yellowhammers everywhere by the River Tyne, then on the way home a Tawny Owl sighting completed the night.  The spooky surreal moments came when we heard a droning sound in the forest that at times masked the sound of the Nightjars, and then walked towards the bright light with all sorts of wild thoughts running through our minds.  You had to be there to feel the tension rising.  Then it was men with netting over their faces that we bumped into.  It was of course a moth trapping event.  A great evening in great company and we are planning to return again in 2014.  Fingers crossed for another decent summer.

Most Unexpected.  Having sightings of Bittern, Water Rail, four Short Eared Owls, Peregrine Falcon and Willow Tit was an unexpected bonus during a day at the Rising Sun Country Park.  I firmly believe (even with the other leisure demands placed upon the area i.e. dog walking and other goings on of an assorted type) that if there was a will to do so, this park could be managed much better so as to encourage birds and other wildlife.  Anyone form the council reading this I wonder?  Probably not, as they all seem to be on holiday.

The Best and Longest Day.  I think this has to be the day spent with Hawkshead Photography and Serenity Boats on the Farne Islands.  I have Sam to thank for this as he invited me along as the second person after he had won this trip in the NHSN and NWT photography competition.  The weather was excellent, the company even better and it even included fish and chips in Seahouses before we joined the evening cruising around the islands again as the sun slowly sank into the sea, giving a Mediterranean feel to the North Sea.  Great day and some decent images as a result.  I smelt Guano in my nostrils for two days afterwards and thought about marketing the scent as a new after shave for real men! 

Mammalian Moments.  The best was definitely the Badger watch on a cold evening in spring which also brought us sightings of Otter and Roe Deer.  Other good moments included the Common Seal that behave perfectly for us during our private stranding on St Mary’s Island where 

Birds of the Year.  These are in no particular order but have to once again include the Great Crested Grebes on Killingworth Lake which are surely some of the most photographed birds in Northumberland!  The Kingfisher in Gosforth park Nature Reserve has to be up there too, if for no other reason than giving us such fantastic photographic opportunities, although we had to work for it spending many hours over several days waiting.  I’m not one for sitting around in hides waiting for images to crop up, but this one was a must have.  Up there too is the Bridled Tern seen on the Farne Islands.  When Sam, Tom and I visited we were left speechless when the Glad Tidings headed in the wrong direction and we wondered if we would reach our destination let alone see the tern.  This was a rare twitch for me and one of only three lifers this year.  The Great White Egret which Sam and I found late evening at Holywell Pond was a treat, not least because no one else saw it that evening as far as I know.  That evening stays firmly in my memory as does the juvenile Marsh Harrier at Holywell.  Then there is the male Hen Harrier watched at length as it hunted in Northumberland.  The twenty plus Yellow Wagtails seen on a wonderful summer evening at Cresswell have to be up there too, as have the Greenshanks and Green Sandpipers seen at Holywell.

Best Value Membership.  This must once again go the Natural History Society of Northumbria.
Irritants of the Year.  I’ve decided to ignore them.  The last few weeks of 2013 have been stressful to say the least and I ate my Christmas Dinner in the restaurant at NTGH during one of my regular daily trips during visiting hours.  Irritants there have been, but put into perspective they are all minor and I’d rather focus on positives.  I’ve come across many dedicated staff in our NHS and many other caring folk and they should all be applauded whilst we count our blessings and stop grumbling about life’s trivialities.

The coming year promises to be an interesting and exciting one and this will I hope be reflected in my blog.  Special thanks to close friends, the closest is pictured above:-).  I hope 2014 brings a peaceful and rewarding year to all.

Happy New Year.


  1. All the best for 2014 Brian, i hope the New Year gives you the outcome you desire. Ive enjoyed your blog across 2013, always informative and varied. The Redstart in the snow would be high on my list.

    best wishes.

    1. Cheers Brian, and all of the very best to you for 2014. Brian.