26th April. This time co-leading an RSPB walk with Sam. We had eleven participants today. My dream that everyone who books actually turns up has yet to come true!
Hulne Park is a walled Deer Park of approximately 3,500 acres on the outskirts of Alnwick town, and is owned and managed by Northumberland Estates. Once, this would have been a forested area. In the eighteenth century the first Duke of Northumberland and landscape architect Capability Brown were responsible for the creation of a park much closer to the one we can see today. It contains the Northumberland Estates home farm, sawmill and numerous homes as well as well as Hulne Priory and other architecture. The priory was established by Carmelite friars in the thirteenth century and was the first Carmelite priory to be built in England and incidentally, it was used as the set for the home of Maid Marion in film Robin Hood; Prince of Thieves. Readers may be more aware of Alnwick Castle being used as the set for Hogwarts in the Harry Potter film series I was reminded that the present Duke of Northumberland has had to search his attic for good to sell in order to pay for life’s necessities. Such was my concern over this that I offered to collect cash for the Duke at the end of the walk. Sadly contributions were not forthcoming, (bang goes my plan for a trip to Cuba), but we did make a small amount for the RSPB coffers. A small amount, but it all counts in the conservation game. Some of us had enjoyed a cuppa at Barter Books before joining the other participants.
We began the walk with a little general information about the area as we listened to Blackcap, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff song. I informed folk that I saw my only Northumberland Hawfinch in this very area some years ago, raising some hopes which I soon dashed! Sam and I wanted everyone to use their ears as much as their eyes today so we placed some emphasis on listening to bird song and calls. I personally think if folk in general made use of their ears as much as their mouths the world would be a much better place to live in. I was very pleased to note that everyone concerned made efforts to listen, although I appreciate that the high pitched tones of the Goldcrest was beyond some. Sam was leading with the birdsong angle such is his progress in his respect. He also sported a spanking new RSPB volunteer badge which left me wondering why I haven’t got one! Note to self…must get badge, as do not wish to be upstaged in future. (Mind you he has been waiting for this badge for two years).
Bullfinch, Nuthatch and Kestrel were amongst birds seen as we walked through the woods down to the River Aln. The river itself provided good sightings of two pairs of Dipper, a flotilla of eight Goosanders, at least two pairs of Grey Wagtail and numbers of Mallard. A Common Whitethroat sang from the opposite river bank. Moving on we watched a Greylag Goose fly past and two Red-legged Partridge. Common Buzzards were enjoying thermals in the area and offered good sightings, their mewing calls being clearly heard. One pair of Dippers gave everyone extended sightings, apparently feeling safe on the opposite bank, and Dipper song could be heard. A Sparrowhawk flew overhead and a pair of Oystercatchers was in the area. Lapwing flew nearby and later Great Spotted Woodpecker was heard calling and drumming and the calls of Jay were also heard.
Enjoying the day
Distant Dipper in song
We looked for Spotted Flycatcher below the priory as another walker had thought he had seen one as he passed by. We found none, but soon had perhaps our sighting of the day in two male Redstarts. Hirundines had been absent from the walk until we passed by the cattle and caught sight of a small number of Swallows flying low over the field. Pied Wagtails were seen near the river and across the fields.
Hulne Priory. Unfortunately we didn't have enough time to visit.