Thursday, 10 January 2019

Lindisfarne and Coastal Route...Sunrise to Sunset

Sunrise, sunset
Sunrise, sunset
Swiftly fly the years
One season following another
Laden with happiness and tears
From Fiddler on the Roof Soundtrack

8th Jan.  We left Killingworth in the dark and headed northwards towards Lindisfarne where we hoped to find good birding and good lighting conditions.  Sam took a detour to Widdrington so that we could catch sight of the female Smew not long after sunrise.  The day was beginning positively and the weather looked promising as the sky cleared and there was just a touch of a cold northerly wind.  A flock of Whooper Swans was seen as we carried on north.


The lighting conditions were Turneresque as we reached the causeway for Lindisfarne.  A pull in prior to crossing provided us with sightings of Yellowhammer, a mixed flock of Twite and Linnet and a lone Fieldfare.  At some point we saw a skein of Pink footed Geese.  As we crossed to the island I was admiring the patterns in the sky as much as looking out for birds.  Reaching the car-park we found only a couple of cars and 3 Lapwing alongside us, so for the earlier part of our visit we were to have the island to ourselves, more or less for a couple of hours, prior to a few more visitors arriving.

Sky over Lindisfarne

We followed our usual route where we found that waders were scarce, perhaps driven to another more sheltered area by wind.  We did find numbers of Grey Plover and other birds included Oystercatcher, Turnstone, Redshank, Curlew and Bar-tailed Godwit.  There were many Brent Geese in the distance and in the opposite direction numerous Shelduck.  Another flock of Whooper Swans could be seen in the distance too.  We also had a very nice and close sighting of a Long- tailed Duck.  We eventually walked through what appeared to be a deserted village, passed St Cuthbert’s Island and climbed before dropping again towards the harbour.  From a height we had good sightings of Red Breasted Mergansers, a Red Throated Diver, Great Northern Diver (seen by Sam), Eider Duck, Common Scoter and Shags.  We talked to another birder who informed us that he was looking for the Red Necked Grebe (we hadn’t realised there was one reported) and Sam quickly had it in the scope.  One of the birds of the day for us.  Grey Seals occasionally showed themselves in the water.   Ringed Plover were amongst birds seen in the harbour area.  A decision was made not to walk the lonnens as the wind was now so strong it was unlikely that we would see much activity.  It was going to be better we thought to move south again.  Teal, Grey Heron and Black Tailed Godwits were amongst birds seen before we left the island that we had had in the main to ourselves.  The causeway was not easy to negotiate, now in places covered in sand and grit and water such as had been the power of the wind.  We managed to keep on track, but only just!  A Little Egret flew almost parallel with the car.  Are we getting blasé about Little Egrets I wonder?

Sky over Lindisfarne

Lindisfarne Castle minus summer crowds

Next stop was Stag Rock.  The wind was vicious, as was the sea.  There was no one on the beach on this occasion!  Such was the conditions we stayed in the car, sighted the Purple Sandpipers and then left for lunch at Seahouses.  After lunch we strolled around deserted harbour on the off chance that birds had been driven into the harbour by the winds.  There were plenty of Eider Ducks and a Guillemot took off from the harbour waters.  There was going to be no boats leaving for a while as the high waves came in the harbour mouth.  We did manage to sight several Gannets and a lone Fulmar over the sea.  It was then off to Newham to search for these reported Taiga Bean Geese.

Rough sea at Seahouses and Bamburgh Castle

It wasn’t long before we found our Taiga Bean Geese, aided by the fact a couple of birders were watching them through their telescope.  Probably our sighting of the day made all the better by a background of skeins of Pink-footed Geese in the air.  Winter Birding at it’s best.  Record images were taken and we decided it was not in the birds’ interests or anyone else following us to get close for a better image.  A good bit of time was spent with the Bean Geese and their companion, a single Pink-footed Goose and the lighting conditions were perfect.  Great stuff as we discussed markings and adaptations of these birds.

Taiga Bean Geese (record image only)

A walk at Long Nanny in hope of finding Shoe Lark was a bit much to ask we agreed, not in this wind anyway, so we headed down to Druridge and had a walk in the hopes of maybe coming across a Short-Eared Owl in the dunes.  On arrival we found a stunning female Sparrowhawk perched on the fence and it can easily be understood why such birds can often be mistaken for Goshwak.  Anyway, we added this to our raptor list of the day, two Common Buzzards, one of them lit wonderfully by the sun on our drive south and at least three or four Kestrels also seen today.  A flock of Goldfinch were seen during the walk as was a single Reed Bunting.  I felt unusually fit as we stepped out on a walk back to the car, although I felt this might be a passing phase.

The sun was setting now and the wind had almost ceased when we had arrived at Druridge, so we decided to make one last brief stop at Cresswell just in case the Barn Owl was beginning to hunt.  We soon gave up on watching out for Barn Owl and we began to make for home, still under attractive skies, although darkening rapidly by now. 


By the time Sam dropped me off at home in the dark we had been out for nine hours and it had been hours well spent on winter birding at its best.  The day being marked almost as much by those fantastic skies and brilliant light as it was by the birds.  Our day list had amounted to sixty-eight species including four species of geese, Taiga Bean Geese, Pink Footed Geese, Brent Geese and Canada Geese.  Taiga Bean Geese must be bird of the day with the Red Necked Grebe as a close second.  The fitness I had felt at Druridge soon wore off as I entered a warm house and I was cream crackered, but what a day, and I still say winter birding is the best!  My year list is now on a healthy ninety-five species all enjoyed at a relaxed pace.

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