3rd Nov. We attended the NHSN talk on Slugs and Snails this evening. My verdict is, yes you can make a talk on slugs and snails interesting and fun and I think the rest of the audience, which was approaching one hundred, would generally agree the talk was excellent. I have the book lined up for winter reading. It’s the New Naturalist Slugs and Snails by Robert Cameron.
5th Nov. Sam and I headed north to Drudge, on what was a very cold, bright autumnal morning, where the highlight on East Chevington North Pool was a Slavonian Grebe. We walked from the Country Park down to the mouth of the burn at East Chevington, which if nothing else warmed us up. We spoke to several birders/photographers here including AJ, who had arrived for the showing of the Twite and Shore Lark. There were now two Shore Lark showing very well in the sun along with a flock of Twite at times showing equally well, the flock numbering around eighty birds. After returning to the Country Park, instead of heading for Druridge Pools and Cresswell Pond we decided to travel to Mitford with the hope of finding the Hawfinch. No Hawfinch seen on this attempt, but it was worth going for the autumnal colours. We also took time to look around the church grounds as Sam has family links to Mitford. I too have links which are more tenuous and fleeting in the great shape of things. We made off to Big Waters.
There was no sign of the pair of Red Crested Pochard at Big Waters, but we did see a family of Whooper Swans and were given directions by MF to the field where the Red-breasted Goose was. I know this bird won’t be listed but I’m guessing it to be as wild as the Red-breasted Goose a few folks made their way over the border to see while ago. :-) Does this bird have a ring on its leg or not? I’ve read conflicting thoughts. We did think we could see a yellow ring, but could it have been a trick of the light? From Big Waters we made for Prestwick Carr.
I’m sure someone has stretched the long straight road at Prestwick Carr, or maybe I was just tired! It was Late afternoon by now and very quiet, although we chatted to two or three birders out to find the Great Grey Shrike. During our walk we saw both Redpoll and Bullfinch and heard Willow Tit. Before we reached the turning for the sentry box we looked northward and with my naked eye I picked up a white smudge in the distance. A view through the binoculars suggested Great Grey Shrike and this was confirmed once we got the scope onto it. Sam and I decided to continue towards the sentry box in the hope of getting a better sighting. We did get a very good sighting as the shrike perched for a long time in the bush. The light was fading to an extent, but seemed to offer perfect conditions for watching the shrike. I guess this is the same bird we watched in January and in previous years.
Record Breaker. Tallest Goat.
So, a good day with some good sightings. We made off as the light dimmed even more and the temperatures seemed to drop considerably. The red flags were flying, so if the sentry was in his/her box I hope he/she had a flask of tea with him/her. We reached the car and were glad to get into it out of the way of the smell of the usual leaking gas which was especially bad today. I figured that we had walked quite a few miles today, so the availability of a car hasn’t made us lazy. I thought of Prestwick Carr at a time when the likes of Thomas Bewick and later Henry Baker Tristram would visit, when the area was far greater and undrained. I did do a bit of reading about this area prior to leading a walk there a few years ago so know that it has an impressive bird list.
9th Nov. We made north again today, this time in the direction of Lindisfarne. Again, it was a bright but cold day. Before reaching Lindisfarne we stopped off at Budle Bay where the highlights were 3 Little Egret, Grey Plover, several Bar-tailed Godwit and large flocks of Shelduck.
As we approached the causeway at Lindisfarne the sun lit up the water to south of us. I don’t think I’ve ever been to the island and not had, at least part of the time, spectacular lighting conditions and today was no exception. We stopped before crossing the causeway to admire the family of Whooper Swans accompanied by one Mute Swan, and to watch at distance the flock of Brent Geese. It was a good start to our visit on what bird wise turned out to be in general a very quiet day. We stopped again to explore the Snook and the massive area of the shore now that the tide had ebbed. This is a wonderful sandy beach and we had it all to ourselves until a couple joined us with their dog. By now the wind was up and sand blew low over the beach giving a desert like effect. I almost forgot that we had to walk back and this time face into the wind! Small pieces of vegetation floated across the area in the wind and looking back at our tracks I found the dunes behind me lit by the sun and a rather odd effect appeared along the sandy beach, where possibly because of blowing sand and other small particles of debris, there was a multitude of colours in areas along the sand. I couldn’t change lenses on the windswept beach, but in any event these kinds of images invariably don’t reproduce what you see at the time, therefore the view remains, but a very good memory. We found the historical site which I must learn more about and walked back following tracks in the dunes, not an easy walk. We’d seen little in the way of birds, but it didn’t matter. It was atmosphere that mattered, and we did find a lone Ringed Plover, Linnets and Rock Pipits, and the occasional Grey Seal watched from the sea.
I was feeling tired before we had even reached the island car-park, but after we had had a hot drink and a bacon sandwich I was back to my normal self and ready to go. We visited the Priory, something neither of us had done for some years, before setting off past the vicar’s garden and around to the harbour. It was very, very quiet, in fact as quiet as I’ve ever seen the island. Passerines were scarce, there was few waders to be seen and there was little on the sea apart from Eider Ducks, Cormorants and the occasional Shag. Curlews were few but in the harbour, we found Grey Plover, Redshank, Turnstone and Bar-tailed Godwit. A rather torpid Red Admiral Butterfly attempted to warm itself near the upturned boats. There were few birders on the island, but the occasional one that we did bump into reported little.
Red Admiral Butterfly
We walked past Gertrude Jekyl’s castle garden, something I don’t remember doing in the past, and onwards towards the sea. A short sea watch brought only Razorbill and Gannet. As we walked back towards the village we watched a female Kestrel hunting over the hedges. It became apparent to us that the Kestrel would wait until we had walked past birds in the hedge which were then disturbed, and the Kestrel would swoop low over the hedge. This continued until we were at the end of the pathway. The Starlings and Curlews in the field were certainly disturbed by this. The seems to have learned this technique to perfection, although we didn’t see it catch anything.
We saw the occasional Fieldfare lift from the hedge trees, but it wasn’t until we reached the coach car-park that we saw numbers of Redwing and a fewer number of Fieldfare.
We were one of the last cars to leave the island but within plenty of time to miss the incoming tide. There were again very good lighting conditions across the mudflats but again few birds. We did have very good close ups of sunlit Curlews and Redshanks, but had left the cameras in the boot. We were luckier that we had the cameras in hand when just before leaving the causeway and heading for home a small skein of Pink-footed Geese flew in our direction.
There was more to visiting Lindisfarne than birds and Sam and I agreed that we had experienced a good day and it was a shame that we had to leave behind what was going to be a very impressive sunset.
10th Nov. We end as we begun with attendance at the NHSN for a presentation by photo journalists Ann and Steve Toon whose images where of excellent quality. Mainly of African wildlife, but not completely so, as there were some from the UK and Thailand. The talk was slanted towards conservation issues and included such items as the removal of Rhino horn in attempts to prevent poaching, and the vasectomies of Elephants to control numbers, controversial subjects indeed. Once again there was a large audience present.