3rd Jan. Carmel, Pauline, Sam and I hit the A1, with me having missed the Common Buzzard seen perched as we left Killingworth. Sleet soon cleared before we even passed Morpeth and by the time we were at our meeting point at Budle Bay the skies were clear and the sun shone. Our sixteen participants (sadly four had pulled out at a late stage because of illness) enjoyed their mince pies, biscuits and hot drinks whilst checking out the bay for birds, and there was plenty of species to be found. I’m glad to say I had seen my first House Sparrow and Collared Doves of 2015 during the journey north as well as our first of a number of Kestrels seen today. I pondered on the best way to greet participants whilst eating a mince pie, drinking coffee and using the telescope. It wasn’t easy! Sam was sharing the lead however and had everything in order.
There was good light from the outset so it was easy to pick up bird sightings which in the bay included three Little Egrets, skeins of Brent and Barnacle Geese, a smaller flock of Greylag Geese and Shelduck, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Mallard, large numbers of Grey Plover, Knot, Dunlin, Redshank, Curlew, Bar-tailed Godwit, Black-tailed Godwit and Red-breasted Merganser. Turnstone were seen at Seahouses as we passed through and Sam reminded me that the Fulmars we watched on the Whinstone at Bamburgh Castle are thought to be the only inland facing colony in the UK.
After short introductory chats from Sam and me we were off in the direction of Spindlestone. I was surprised at how many of our party had never been to the area of Spindlestone in the past. We were to have bright sun and blue skies for the duration of the four hour walk. As we walked through the wooded area and alongside the burn numbers of tit parties were found with Blackbirds, Chaffinches, Goldfinches, Treereeper and three or four very obliging Goldcrests. Surprisingly unlike the last time I had visited the area we saw no Song Thrushes today. Yellowhammers were less numerous than on a previous visit but were showing well in the sunshine never the less. Goldfinch (a species of which numbers seems to be going from strength to strength) flocks were large and included a single Siskin. The small hamlets that we passed held both House and Tree Sparrows in numbers.
Once out in the open we were soon watching flocks of Mistle Thrush, Fieldfare and Redwing. Raptors seen were several Common Buzzards, at least two Sparrowhawks, Kestrels and a Peregrine Falcon. The latter bird disappearing quickly as it flew low over fields seemingly heading towards Budle Bay. Jays were seen very well.
Someone had caught sight of a Grey Wagtail on the burn which I had missed, but we were soon watching another on a house roof. Pied Wagtail was also seen as was a Dipper very briefly and none too well as it flew off and away from us along the burn.
The woodland on surrounding the hide was a bit disappointing on this occasion with tits, Chaffinch and Dunnock about the only birds showing until one or two participants saw Nuthatch. We had our lunch in this area and then decided not to visit the second hide but instead just walk a little further along the road before retracing our steps and walking to the top of Spindlestone Heugh whilst the light was still good. A Great Spotted Woodpecker flew towards the narrow layer of woodland at the foot of the heugh. This is the site of a Mesolithic fort and offers wonderful views across Budle Bay, along the coast and across the immediate area of Northumberland. Jays were heard squaking in the woodland. We were joined by three Highland cattle.
As we walked back to Budle Bay Long–tailed Tits were found. Once back at the bay we found the area and atmosphere changed complete as the tide was high. Eider Ducks swam nearby and a large Golden Plover flock flew in the distance and was occasionally lit by the sun. A lone Little Grebe swam and dived and Cormorant was picked up. Small parties of Wigeon remained on the sea within the bay.
It had been a great walk in perfect winter weather. A day that underlines why I so much prefer winter bird watching. A fantastic early January walk during which Sam kept participants informed of some of the history of the area such as Joe Baker Cresswell's involvement during World War Two and the taking of the Enigma machine. So busy had we been keeping an eye out for the birds it meant that a few tales we were missed out, but there will always be another time.
We stopped briefly at Seahouses on our return journey. There was little to see apart from the usual Eider Ducks in the harbour which were attracting the attention of stone throwing delinquents as their adult carers looked on. There was no sign of the Black-necked Grebe. Temperatures seemed to be dropping suddenly. The sun set in a darkening sky as we headed south down the A1 and I had to work at keeping my eyes open. It helped to think of having another sweet mince pie when I reached home!
Sam after a job well done and a great days birding.
Great birding with sixty-eight species seen, of which 39 were new for the year list, which if my maths are correct takes me to a total of seventy-five so far.