18th Feb. Up with the larks and soon listening to bird song (a Song Thrush has been singing outside of my home in the dark of night this week), I departed Killingworth early this morning and along with Sam and my brother Peter we headed for Durham. We reached Shildon just before 8.00am on what I guess you could call a twitch of sorts. After all we were after looking at rarities. Our morning was to be spent at The National Railway Museum at Shildon and I think that some might argue that there is little difference whether you are twitching birds or twitching trains! I was trying to remember when the last time was that I was up and out so early on anything but a bird watch.
A Bittern, Union of South Africa and Sir Nigel Gresley begins the day
I’ve never been to The National Railway Museum at Shildon and as far as I remember I’ve never been to Shildon! We went today to see the The Great Goodbye. On 3rd July 1938, the A4 Class Pacific locomotive Mallard raced down Stoke Bank at 126mph to set a new steam locomotive world speed record. That record still stands.
Wheels on Fire...Mallard
In 2013 the 75th anniversary of Mallard's achievement, it is being marked with the Mallard 75 series of commemorative events of which the Great Goodbye is one, including spectacular opportunities to see the world's fastest locomotive united with its five surviving sister locomotives. The other five Locomotives are Bittern, Union of South Africa, Dominion of Canada (originally named Woodcock), Sir Nigel Gresley and Dwight D, Eisenhower
Stood on a Mallard
Now you may be wondering why this report is appearing on a wildlife blog. Well there are strong connections to birds as you will see from the title. Just in case anyone doubts me, I can assure you that I was stood on a Mallard today (every schoolboy’s dream at one time I’m sure) and I have images to prove it, and it was next to a Bittern.
Where else could Bittern Magnet Sam be other than next to a Bittern
The Sir Nigel Gresley was named after its designer. Sir Nigel Gresley (19 June 1876 – 5 April 1941) was one of Britain's most famous steam locomotive designers and responsible for the design of the class A4 Pacifics. Sir Nigel’s interest in ornithology accounts for many of this class of locomotive being named after birds. The names included Golden Eagle, Kingfisher, Falcon, Kestrel, Merlin, Sea Eagle, Woodcock, Osprey, Great Snipe, Golden Plover, Sparrowhawk, Bittern, Guillemot, Herring Gull, Wild Swan, Mallard, Pochard, Gadwall, Garganey, Gannet, Capercaillie, Seagull and Peregrine.
Sir Nigel Gresley...wheels on fire
So today saw us taking a close look at the locomotives. We were there early, as we weren’t just joining the masses. Oh no, not us! We were attending a special event for photographers before the doors were open to the crowds. I can vouch for the fact that when the masses did join us there were crowds of them and when we left the car parks were ‘chocka’, with a tail back of traffic stretching for about two miles from the event. Decent photography would have been impossible. We went home happy having watched as some of the locomotives were put in to position and put into steam whilst only about twenty-five of us were present. The smell of the steam took me back to my childhood when taken to far off places by my big brother, such as Newcastle Central Station and Carlisle Station. It was a real adventure at the time. It was an excellent adventure today too and the weather was at its best, the bright sunshine at times making for atmospheric, but difficult lighting conditions. When Peter had booked us onto the event we had been concerned about snow and ice making for a difficult journey.
More wheels on fire
On the return home two Common Buzzards were sighted over the A69 following our stop for a cuppa and later in the day I saw a Nordic Jackdaw near to the roundabout at the north end of Billy Mill Lane. OK, I know there are varying views about what constitutes a Nordic Jackdaw, but it was good enough for me, a mere train spotter for the day!