Tuesday, 9 January 2018

Birds and Brass Monkeys on Northumberland Coast

8th Jan.  I ate my cornflakes whilst temperatures remained at -5C outside and I thought to myself ‘it’ll warm up a bit before we leave for the coast’.  The temperature did rise ever so slightly, but I’m pleased we took so many layers of clothing when we headed north to Fenham Flats, having first ensured that the garden birds were fed.  I should have guessed we were going to face low temperatures when we stepped from the car, having passed the sign which had warned ‘brass monkeys enter this area at their own risk’.  So hard was the frost in places that areas to the sides of the AI looked as though they were scenes from a Christmas card.  Common Buzzard, Kestrel and a large flock of Lapwings were seen before we turned off onto icy side roads and headed to the hide at Fenham Flats.

The hide at Fenham Flats offered some protection from the biting cold and offered a splendid view of a tranquil area where skies were blue, and the windless atmosphere was very much in contrast to our visit to Lindisfarne two days before.  It was only a pity that Lindisfarne Castle remains under scaffold, as it and the reflection on the water below would have offered a near perfect photographic opportunity.  Once again we had good sightings of many Brent Geese, some close by the hide and others far more distant as were many of the waders.  Flocks of Dunlin were amongst waders that showed well and flew across our field of view.  We looked for Little Stint but were unable to find one.  Shelduck were here in large numbers as were Grey Plover.  We chatted to a young lady who was on holiday and traveling up the coast towards St Abbs.  She appeared to be a keen photographer and could not have picked a better day and had chosen well to view the area from this point.

After spending some time at Fenham Flats we made off to Budle Bay, but not before finding Redwing and Song Thrush in the hedge.  Stonechat was seen but for the life of me I don’t remember where.  This time we had a little better luck with some birds being a bit closer to shore although many were not and despite our best efforts we were unable to locate the Spotted Redshank although Redshank were numerous along with Curlews and Bar Tailed GodwitsShelduck were again there in numbers and the field held a large flock of Greylag Geese with a few Canada Geese and Brent Geese among the flock.  A skein of Pink footed Geese flew overhead.

After a break for lunch we returned to Stagg Rock where today the sea was much calmer and there was just enough wind to make for a biting cold atmosphere.  I don’t remember feeling so cold for a long time.  We took shelter behind a wall and that seemed to fend off the worst of the cold.  It wasn’t long before we had sighting of rafts of Common Scoter, Velvet Scoter, Long tailed Duck, numbers of Red Throated Diver, a Great Northern Diver, Shag and Eider Duck.  These birds were quite close to shore so were seen very well.     Purple Sandpipers were also seen north of the Stagg.

With the days being still short we next made off to East Chevington and after checking out North Pool amongst other birds we found another Long-Tailed Duck, Red breasted Merganser, Little Grebes and Goldeneyes.  Instead of walking to the mouth of the burn we decided to get down to Druridge Pools before the light disappeared.    I had thought it couldn’t get any colder, but it did.  We looked from the budge screen to find the ponds frozen solid and only one solitary bird present, which was a Shelduck that finally gave up and flew off.  We too gave up at this point and made for home after a last quick stop at Cresswell Pond were a large flock of Lapwing had gathered in the centre of the frozen pond.

As we headed for home threatening cloud began to approach from the south.  In the west the sky reddened, and the sun formed a huge red ball of flame as it reached the horizon.  A bitterly cold but very rewarding day.  Give me a cold bright winter’s day over a damp squib of a summer’s day anytime!

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