It's a long time since we completed the walk from Holywell to St Mary’s Island, so to keep our reputation as all weather birders Sam and I decided to ‘walk the walk’ today. Temperatures down to zero weren’t going to keep us at home. As we headed for Holywell I noted a long band of heavy cloud along the coastline, otherwise conditions were perfect for a winter walk, bright crisp and perfect light.
A frozen pond at Holywell
We arrived at Holywell Pond’s members hide to find that the shutters were frozen, swollen and impossible to open, although with effort we managed to prise the centre shutter open. We need not have bothered as there was little to see apart from an almost deserted, but picturesque frozen pond. The ice was reflecting steel like hues. The feeding station at the entrance was attracting numbers of Tree Sparrow and Chaffinch and a few other garden species. Unsurprisingly we found the public hide empty, although because there was little wind it didn’t feel as cold as I have known it to be at times. A small break in the ice had attracted Mallards, two Tufted Duck and gulls, but nothing else. We did hang around long enough to have a very good sighting of a male Sparrowhawk which initially flew into the reed-bed before taking off again and flying up the pond and over the ducks and gulls before finally perching in a tree at the other end of the pond. It was no doubt finding prey difficult to come by, just as we were finding sightings difficult to come by.
We eventually headed off towards the open fields finding very little in this deserted area. We did find two Golden Plover attempting to feed in the field to the right of us and a loan Grey Heron standing by the hedge in the distance obviously it too was finding conditions hard. We’d seen two Pink-footed Geese fly over on our arrival but found no more in the fields. Greylag Geese were heard in the distance towards the coast, but they weren’t seen. We were enjoying the walk and by now could even feel a little warmth from the sun. Out in these open fields is usually the coldest part of this walk but as there was barely a breath of wind it felt almost mild today! The ground however was solid and almost give a feeling of walking on pavement. Just before we reached the dene we heard and then saw a pair of Grey Wagtails feeding on the frozen mud area. One of the pair was seen really well and its plumage showed brilliantly in the clear bright light. Our first of three, possibly four, Kestrels seen today had been noted as we walked down to the dene edge.
The walk through the dene was unusually quiet for the time of year although feeding stations along the way were attracting numbers of Great, Coal and Blue Tits and a few other of the woodland birds including Nuthatch which were quite vocal at times. Great Spotted Woodpecker was seen along the way as was a Common Buzzard which lifted from the floor of the woodland and flew off over the burn. One of the birds of the day was the Bullfinch we found. It looked in perfect condition and again the light appeared to show this bird off perfectly. A very under-rated species in my opinion and just like the Grey Wagtail having a stunning plumage. Long-tailed Tits were heard.
We put on a bit of a spurt as we neared the end of the dene to ensure we arrived for fish and chips on time. It was obvious from the number of Redshank we passed that the tide was high. We hadn’t been to Seaton Sluice for our meal for ages and this was even noted by a member of staff! The quality of the food here has happily remained high.
The tide was very high today, so we made off towards St Mary’s Island right away without looking from the headland. The line of cloud seen on our departure this morning appeared to have moved eastward so wasn’t threatening. We found Kestrel, Golden Plover, Lapwing and Curlew in the fields before reaching the wetland where the only bird of any note was a lone Grey Heron.
I love the atmosphere of winter days such as we were experiencing so the lack of sightings was of no problem to me. I was enjoying the open spaces and winter skies and the clear view down to Marsden Rock and Souter Lighthouse. Just before we made for home we looked across to the lighthouse which was lit by the setting sun and which had drawn quite a few photographers. This must be one of the most photographed sites in the area and it is such a shame that the view now takes in wind turbines at sea. I wonder who had the idea to plant them in that position? The island held Oystercatcher, Sanderling, Turnstone, Dunlin and Redshank all standing at the tides edge.
By now it was bitter cold, and I reckon zero degrees at least. We made for home as the sunset lit up the western horizon as if on fire. There were patches of black ice on the ground when we arrived back in Killingworth. A great day had been had as always.