30th May. Not every day begins by standing beside a Black Rhino, but today was one of the few that did! I’m rather ashamed to say it was really the first time that I had paid full attention to this sculpture in the Hancock Museum grounds. I have begun a day once before being just as close to a Black Rhino, although on that occasion I was well protected in a Safari jeep in Zambia. I remember well the amount of conservation work being done and just how tightly guarded this species had to be because of fear of poachers. Our first Skydancer Project presentation was given quite successfully this week to the Dry Stone Walling Association of Northumberland. I’m pleased to say we raised some awareness of the plight of the Hen Harrier in England and the plight of raptors in general. You don’t have to travel the world to find persecution of wildlife, as there appears to be plenty on our own doorstep! Anyway, today was to be spent in an area where conservation is taken seriously. You may want to keep an eye open for the peaceful protests planned in August concerning Hen Harriers.
Having been picked up in Newcastle I was soon heading for Bishop Middleham to carry out a reccy of an RSPB LG trip to the area on 12th July. I needed to refresh my mind as to the route of the walk and facilities. We began the walk from the village and headed to wards Castle Lake as Swifts flew overhead. Whilst watching the Shelducks with what appeared to be a crèche of young birds and listening to numerous Oystercatchers, I caught the sound of Corn Bunting and quickly found it on the wires and flying about the area. Well OK, not a Black Rhino but still well worth a fight to conserve. I was with GL who picked up the calling of another Corn Bunting further along our path although we never found this one. Some excellent conservation work is done around the Castle Lake area by the likes of Durham Bird Club and the local farmers. The lake seemed to me to be quieter than on previous visits, but I admit we didn’t spend a great deal of time watching. A Common Buzzard flew in the distance and waders were well represented by numbers of Lapwing and Oystercatcher. Sand Martins flew around us. We failed to identify two waders seen in the distance in poor light. Lesser Black Backed Gulls were present and the water held numbers of Shelduck, Mallard and Tufted Duck with fewer Gadwall and the odd Little Grebe. Canada Geese were about in numbers and Grey Heron and Mute Swan were also seen.
I’m expecting much more botanical interest in July and given some sunshine many more butterflies, although I seem to think a rough area that provided much interest in the past seems now to have been cultivated, although maybe my memory is playing tricks. As we continued on the walk we either watched or listened to Common Whitethroat, Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff, Reed Bunting and Yellowhammer. A great Spotted Woodpecker flew across. Tree Sparrow was seen and Song Thrush heard.
The route is a pleasant circular walk back to the village taking in not only Castle Lake, but other ponds and small reed-beds in the area. We couldn’t find the pic-nic tables that used to be about so it will be lunch on the hoof on the day of the walk.
Once back into the village we had a pleasant talk with a couple holidaying in the area who had marked out a number of birding walks to be tackled over the course of their stay. We then headed for the unused magnesian limestone quarry which closed down in the 1930s. The massive quarry still operates on the periphery and seemed to be very busy today. Once into the old quarry though you are in a peaceful and tranquil area which I’ve found in the past has few visitors. Pity that some dimwits had chosen to discard an unwanted mattress and other junk in the parking bays. I would love to be able to drop the rubbish back on their living room carpets.
We realised a visit to the quarry at this time of year was not ideal for botanical interest and because there was low cloud and no sunshine were weren’t going to be treated to lots of butterflies, and in any event we were to early for the Northern Argus. I had hoped to find Dingy Skipper Butterfly, but this isn’t easy when there is no sunshine as this species tends to hide away and sure enough there were none to be seen. We did find more than one Cinnabar Moth and a few Wall Brown Butterflies. Rock Rose, the plant that the Northern Argus Butterfly depends upon for larval food plant was in flower in places, as was Milkwort. A Green Woodpecker was very briefly heard and seen, Great Spotted Woodpecker heard and Willow Warbler, Chiffchaff and Yellowhammers were all in song. Sand Martins were also about the area. The mews of a Common Buzzard could be heard.