Thursday, 13 October 2016

Oh Brother...Another Winner!

History has given us Romulus and Remus, Cain and Able, Jacob and Wilhem (the Brothers Grim), Bobby and Jack (Charlton), Don and Phil (Everly), Liam and Noel (Gallagher) and William and Harry (future King and sidekick), but now we have the best of the all, Samuel and Joshua aka Sam and Josh.

Overall winning image from Joshua
Sam gets the occasional mention on this blog because of his talents for the likes of birding and photography.  For Josh this is his first appearance of which I can imagine he’ll be very proud, and so he should be as only the crème del la crème get a look in on here.  On this occasion I won’t even charge him for the privilege.

The man himself with the winning image
After Sam’s success in the line of photography his brother Josh is now starting to show real promise, so you old(er) guys better get your act together.  Josh has recently visited Marvel Zoo to pick up his awards for winning the native wildlife section of the photography competition and also entering the over all winning image! 

Joshua with brother Samuel
I’ve included copies of the winning image and an image of the brothers.  Thanks to go to their proud mum who provided the images

Congratulations Joshua.

Wednesday, 12 October 2016

Gold Coast

11th Oct.  Sam and I braved the drizzle and visited the coast again today.  We were initially treated to hedges containing gold, and lots of it, at the west end of the crematorium grounds.  It helped take our minds off the drizzling rain that fell intermittently.

We later walked down to the wetland area, passing numbers of Curlew which in the dull grey light, were camouflaged so well against the almost colourless and rather barren farmland, that we almost missed them.  Having reached the wetland we were treated once again to sightings of much gold, a lot of which seemingly had just arrived from overseas.  So many pieces of gold, that we were unable to count them to any degree of accuracy.  Even more gold was later found in the mounds as we walked to Seaton Sluice.  There was enough gold found to warrant a smile even from someone of the disposition of Long John Silver, but he wasn’t there of course and neither was there many other folk although we spoke to one or two passing bird watchers and at more length to members of the birding group from the Natural History Society.  The gold I speak of was of course in the form of Goldcrests, there having been a migratory fall of these birds, each adult weighing on average only six and a half grams, or perhaps even less now that they had flown so far.  They were all frantically feeding in order to build up strength again and their high pitched sii sii sii calls could be heard as they communicated their presence.

We failed to find any sighting of Yellow Browed Warbler today, although I don’t doubt thy there would have been some present.  I suspect they may have been keeping deep in the vegetation out of the wind and rain.  Five newly arrived Brambling were found, initially by call, as they appeared to make there way inland after the sea crossing. More ephemeral magic was provided in the form of a hunting Merlin, initially spotted as it flew low along the hedge line and out into open ground near the willows before quickly disappearing.  A single Fieldfare was seen in flight above the wetland edge before dropping into the hedges.  Our second Great Spotted Woodpecker of the day made a longer appearance as it flew in typical fashion around the area and a pair of Kestrel hovered in the wind above the cliff edge.

So if you take away the treasure provided by the Goldcrests, there was no mass migration arrival today, but there was enough to satisfy us for six hours, including waders along the way, Ringed Plover, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Sanderling Turnstone, Dunlin and Curlew included.

Far from an ideal day for photography today, but I'd purchased a new wide angle lens (Sigma 10-20 3.5) so I was damn well going to use it!  Yes, you can expect some wider perspective images in future.

I had failed to notice the incoming mist until we came to leave for home at about 4:45pm.  Enough mist and rain coming off the sea to ensure that today’s rain did not come as a surprise.  I went to sleep last night not counting sheep, but counting pieces of gold and believe me earlier in the day I had checked almost each piece of gold out in case there was other treasure amongst it!

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Golden Season

A week or two ago I paid another visit to St Marys Island, or more precisely the coastline nearby.  The tide prevented crossing to the island itself so instead much of our time was spent watching the waders and chatting to some familiar faces and some faces not known, but no less friendly for that.  One of the strangers was an American lady visiting from Edinburgh with her family.  It reminded me just how much that the American term shorebird is so much more evocative and descriptive than the term wader.  I was also reminded of just how many passing folk have no idea of the species of bird that they are watching, although many were watching quite intently so that is a positive in itself.  Positive too, was the interest shown by so many when given information about the birds, and so many did come and ask.

It was the Golden Plovers that really took the eye that day.  Our seasons may be getting more difficult to differentiate but you can be sure it’s autumn when the flock of Golden Plover begin to increase.

I was also mindful whilst watching that this area surrounding St Mary’s Island is an area where I first began to watch birds intently, where perhaps I saw my first Golden Plovers and certainly saw my first Purple Sandpipers and Roseate Terns.  It’s always good to remember that all those who watch birds keenly, began as novices and in that respect all are more likely to show more respect to those wishing to learn.  It’s always good too to remember that your learning never ends.

There wasn’t much sea passage on that particular day although we did record flocks of Teal, Wigeon and a number of Red-throated Divers.  Incidentally I prefer the American term loon for divers too.

A lone drake Eider  fed close by.

Monday, 3 October 2016

Going Underground...Victoria Tunnel

But I want nothing this society's got
I'm going underground (going underground)
Well, let the brass bands play and feet start to pound
Going underground (going underground)
Well, let the boys all sing and let the boys all shout for tomorrow
Lyrics by the Jam

Cluny Building reflected in the Ouseburn, designed by John Dobson.  Now a bar and live music centre, but has served as a flax spinning mill, steam powered flax mill and Scotch whiskey bottling plant.
2nd Oct.  With no thoughts about birds or other wildlife, apart from wondering if we might come across sewer Rats, we headed towards the Ouseburn area of the city.  Now I remember this area very well from my childhood, although at that time my knowledge of it was gained from distant views from the bus (trolley-bus usually), as I travelled over Byker Bridge on the way to the city centre.  At that time the area where the Ouseburn meanders down to join the Tyne looked far from inviting and I never ever felt any urge to explore it.  This was many years before any thought was given to the Metro Bridge apparently kept together with epoxy-resin.   Over the years I’ve very occasionally skirted across the edges of the place without giving it much thought.  Today the area is physically and culturally very different and this was my first time for more extensive exploration, primarily underground in the Victoria Tunnel.  We were joining the guided tour, after an invite from members of the Northumbria Dry-stone Walling Association to join them.  It turned out to be a two hour tour not to be missed.

Bridges.  In the foreground the road bridge, behind is the metro bridge and in the distance the railway viaduct.

Boat built by children.  Out side of the Seven Stories National Children's Book Centre
I’m not going to give lots of information about the actual tour as that would spoil the experience for any locals or others who get along in the future and of course if you have already been along then you don’t need to be told.  After parking up we met our very knowledgeable and friendly guides at the office where there was a nice selection of books and thankfully a toilet.  The initial part of the tour was above ground checking out some of the historic sites along by the Ouseburn, including the old site of the Maling Pottery factory and the Cluny building.  Then we entered the Victoria Tunnel.

Photography wasn't easy down there and this is one that went wrong.  I do think it gives a good impression of the atmosphere however!
The tunnel which runs under the city was opened in 1842 and used then as a wagon-way to bring coal from Spital Tongues Colliery down to the River Tyne and we learned much about the building of the tunnel and its subsequent use as a wagon-way.  As the Second World War approached the tunnel was reopened and used as an air raid shelter, and not an especially comfortable one by the sound of it.  Folk often stayed down there for eight hours sat on wooden platform type seats although the lucky few had wooden bunk beds.  As the book says, better damp than dead.  I tried not to imagine the smell!  In the 1950s there was even talk of possible use as a nuclear bunker, but thankfully that proved unnecessary but it does underline how close we were to nuclear destruction during the Cold War.

One of our guides giving out the info.

My brother getting a close look at what would have been used as a chemical toilet during air-raids.
Visits to the Ouseburn section of the tunnel were begun in 1998 by the Ouseburn Partnership, but ceased in 2006 when the tunnel began to show signs of structural strain.  Funding provided by Tyne and Wear Partnership and Newcastle City Council ensured that the necessary repair work was carried out.  Access was improved and the public tours began again in 2009 following a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund.  There are one hour and two hour tours.  We had joined a two hour tour and were taken 700 metres into the tunnel.  It is a very atmospheric experience, especially when all the lights are put out and the tape is played of an approaching wagon load of coal!  In the even we saw no Brown Rats and we were told in fact there are none to be found in there.

If you look carefully you will see a crucifix built into the bricks.  This was done as this is under St Dominic's Church.

Bricks used for the wall of the tunnel were made from the boulder clay removed by the workmen who dug the tunnel.  Curves in the tunnel can be seen where it has avoided boulder clay to large to remove easily.  The lower wall is made of stone that was retrieved from the building work going on in Grey Street (under the design of John Dobson) at the time.  This image shows where the different materials join.

Yes that's Sam under the hard hat.  The protection was certainly required if you were over 6ft and even I scraped the roof a couple of times when at low points.  

My brother heads towards the exit with group members.

I was brought up with stories about the wartime air raid shelter under the railway bridge at Byker, but I confess I knew little to nothing about Victoria Tunnel and never expected to be down there.  It’s an experience not to be missed.  My thanks go to the volunteer guides.  I’m hoping to get back down to the Ouseburn soon for some photography and perhaps some birding.