27th April. The day started with a year tick as at least a couple of Common Terns flew over Killingworth Lake. Sam had caught sight of them last night and he and I met at the lake today. Swallows, Sand Martins and House Martins accompanied the terns over the large lake. Sadly the Great Crested Grebes are having a difficult year so far. Initially it seemed to be the weather that delayed nesting by one month relative to last year. Having finally got started in safe position the nest has been deserted and appears to have been taken over by Coots. Desertion of the nest coincided with the council lowering the water in the lake by several inches as reported in the Evening Chronicle this week. I hadn’t realised that the water level of the two lakes are connected, but it seems it is, although I’m happy to be corrected on that point. Incidentally I don’t agree entirely with what was reported, but there seems little point in commenting anymore as the same information is constantly churned out. At least the council has got around to repairing the dangerous kerbs around the lake. Now the grebes appear to be attempting a new nest and no doubt the council will raise the water levels! We will remind them of how few Great Crested Grebes actually breed successfully in Northumberland. Chiffchaffs were heard and seen. We moved on to take some photos of Snakes head Fritillary which wasn’t easy in the wind so another attempt may be warranted. Having had a good look at Dial Cottage (George Stephenson’s cottage) on the Great Lime Road we made for the Rising Sun Country Park, feeling cold, but happy. Both Sam and I have a keen interest in following up the history of the areas we visit and this is generally appreciated on the walks we lead.
The park centre was as busy as I’ve ever seen it with the café doing a roaring trade, with a couple of events going on so we made away from that point pausing to take a look at our old friend Stan the Stag, now apparently content to stay in the field with the horses, his roaming around the park days now over it seems.
Stan the Stag takes a bow.
Birdlife around the park was quite scarce today. There were certainly numbers of Willow Warbler and lesser numbers of Chiffchaff. Sedge Warbler had been briefly heard by a birder we spoke to that I know well, but not by name. Despite Common Terns flying over Killingworth Lake there were none to be seen at Swallow Pond today. It wasn’t until we got up onto the hill that we found Common Whitethroats which were keeping low most of the time. We’d found none in the area where both Common and Lesser Whitethroat had been found at this time last year. The hedges had recently been cut back. Could this not have been done in winter rather than spring and the nesting period? Perhaps I ought to stop asking questions like this, or perhaps people might think I haven’t much time for the Local Authority!!! Anyway there were at least two or three Common Whitethroat on the hill as well as a pair of Wheatear and Skylarks.
Having come down from the hill we joined the maddening crowd for a snack at the café before making off for Prestwick Carr. Budding premiership footballers didn’t seem too bothered about where the ball was kicked, but at least it didn’t land in my bowl of soup and I wasn’t bitten!
If the park was quite I have to say the Carr was quieter still and as someone commented during the day, it was hard work to find anything. Again there were plenty of Willow Warblers, but our walk along the bumpy road and up past the sentry box brought us little else, although we did hear two Grasshopper Warblers and I understand another was reeling further along the pathway. We didn’t manage to locate the Redstart that had been watched by another birder. I was told that someone had seen a Little Egret fly in earlier today, but we were unable to locate that either. I picked out Pied Wagtails in the distance but saw no sign of Yellow Wagtail, but that’s not to say it wasn’t there as I had no scope. Greylag Goose and Grey Heron were seen and Curlew heard. A Common Buzzard was also seen flying over the pathway. On our return walk we bumped into a couple of birders who were hoping to find the reported Great White Egret. It had been reported before our arrival at the Carr. I’m unsure if there is some confusion between little and great, but in any event we saw neither species during the time we were present. I now see that Great White Egret was seen at times during the day in the exact same area we had watched.
Before we made for home both Long-tailed Tits and a Willow Tit were seen. As mentioned, finding species was hard work today, and cold too at times despite the sun. It was an enjoyable day though and interesting to hear the views of some other birders, with three new year ticks amongst the fifty-five bird species seen. The birds we did see seemed very flighty as did the two Small Tortoiseshell Butterflies seen on the Carr, so the cameras weren’t used very much today.
The Snakes head Fritillary Fritillaria meleagris which took a few minutes of our time in the morning is a very nice flower which certainly used to grow as a garden escape in Killingworth, and perhaps still does. I know this as some soil I took from an abandoned orchard many years ago prior to housing being built on the land, produced a single Snakes head Fritillary in my garden for a number of years before one year it just failed to appear again.
There is some argument that Snakes head Fritillary has never been a naturally wild plant in Britain and that all these plants that are found in the wild have originated from garden escapes. The flowers we looked at were cultivated specimens but no less attractive for that. The scientific name is interesting. Fritillaria stems from the Latin fritillus meaning dice-box and probably refers to the chequered pattern on the flowers. (The chequered pattern on Fritillary Butterflies is believed to lead to that name also). The name meleagris means ‘spotted like a guinea fowl’. The common name ‘snakes head’ refers to the snake like appearance of the green and nodding flower heads.