29th Nov. The early morning was bright, clear and frosty, although by the time Sam and I began our walk at Holywell in mid morning, the sun was showing only periodically. I found the changing light added to the atmosphere of a late autumn day, although as far as I’m concerned we are now into winter and if you had sat with us in the public hide at the pond you would I think, agree. Before leaving Holywell on our way to Backworth via the dene we were back under clear blue skies and sunshine and this didn’t change until the light began to fade as the afternoon progressed.
Gadwall. One of many.
Our journey had included passing numbers of geese in the fields opposite Backworth Flash. I knew that we could check these out later in the day so wasn’t too concerned at having not identified them. On arrival we headed for the public hide where we found local birder and photographer JL with whom we always enjoy a good chat. I didn’t feel as cold at any time during the day as I felt in that hide! The discomfort was more than made up for by the changing light conditions. At times it was as if a veil was being lifted and dragged across the area as shifting cloud allowed the sun to light different parts of the landscape before us. It was a light that with the cold air again suggested winter. The family of Mute Swans had been the first birds we had seen on our approach and they flew across the fields as we neared the hide. I noticed the feeding station was not stocked with food, unfortunate in such conditions, and only a couple of Dunnock and the odd tit attempted to seek any remaining feed. The pond held Mallard, numbers of Gadwall close to the edge, Wigeon, Teal, Tufted Duck and Goldeneye. A few gulls made an appearance and a Grey Heron stood sentinel like close by. I saw at least one other Grey Heron lift from the reeds before dropping back down and becoming invisible to the eye. After a while Sam and I moved off to look over the fields and hedges, intending to retrace our steps later.
Winter light is by far the best light.
The field were very quiet as were the hedges. We did see a small skein of Pink footed Geese and a Great Spotted Woodpecker fly by before we headed down the track to the dene. Skylark and the odd Redwing were also seen. As we approached the dene the hedge to our right began to look as though it might prove more fruitful in our search, first of all giving us a sighting of at least three Reed Buntings and then a female Bullfinch. Then Sam got his eye on a Brambling, then another and another. Brambling seemed to make up the majority of a mixed flock of passerines including, tits, Chaffinch Goldfinch and Tee Sparrow, the latter species which we missed but which was seen by another birder we later spoke to.. It was the Brambling that kept us watching at some length. We estimated that there were approximately twenty Brambling, mostly female. They seemed to disperse to various areas of the woodland and we only picked up the odd call from them. Without doubt Brambling was our species of the day. As I have often commented, it is my favourite of the commoner winter migrants.
Our thoughts about retracing our steps were forgotten and we decided to keep to the dene area. Thankfully the muddy pathway through the gate was frozen hard. A Treecreeper was seen and no sooner had a comment been made about poor light, when the sun came out from behind cloud and stayed out for the rest of the walk. As we walked through the tree lined area the light was wonderful as was the remaining colour. Leaves continued to fall rather like butterflies, making me rethink my thoughts about the arrival of winter as the sun and leaf fall definitely gave an autumnal feel. The recent fall of poppies on Remembrance Day came to mind. We eventually pressed on and Dipper was among birds seen.
Our walk to Backworth was without any real birding interest, but pleasant none the less. On arrival we took note of the only building now left standing at the area of the old Fenwick Pit. The engine room I seem to remember is dated 1946, that being the date of Nationalisation of the mining industry, and of course the year after the end of the Second World War. Sam had been doing some research into local history and in particular a local brickworks which no longer exists and we wondered if the bricks used for this building had come from there. I believe this building is going to remain, although the area is scheduled for, yes you have guessed, house building. I can’t help but feel that this building having been ‘done up’ would make the ideal museum to record local history. Does anyone on the Council agree I wonder?
Our industrial heritage plus artwork/graffiti. What remains of the buildings at Fenwick Pit, East Holywell. Some may see an old building, I see history and a museum.
The area of Backworth which used to be a good site for birds appears to have become extremely tame now. We saw little in the way of birds as we continued our walk. A Common Gull at one point broke deadness. It wasn’t until we completed our lap of the area that we found a sizable flock of Teal on the remaining water and the on the flash found good numbers of Pied Wagtails and Meadow Pipits which seemed to feed well off the frozen flash. There was no Water Pipit! We had watched a Kestrel from a distance as it perched on a post and now we were closer to it. No doubt conserving energy in the cold weather it seemed to be hunting from the post and when it dropped down it returned to another post with what appeared to be a vole.
Backworth flash, with Earsdon in the background.
Before we returned home we were able to confirm that all of the geese in the field opposite were Greylag Geese. We had heard the call of Common Snipe once or twice earlier and I guessed there were probably a number hidden in the area. Just before we left three Common Snipe flew high over our heads.