Wednesday, 24 February 2021

In Pursuit of Spring

It was March 1913 when writer and poet Edward Thomas set off from his home in Clapham to walk westwards to Somerset in pursuit of spring.  The book that describes his journey and his gradual finding of the early signs of spring became a classic of English literature, and although that work will not be to everyone’s taste, I found it to be an excellent, refreshing and relaxing read.  I was reminded of Edward Thomas and his pursuit yesterday, as we slowly wandered in relaxed mood around part of the patch.  Spring has of course yet to arrive, but it was one of those mild bright days that suggest winter will not be with us forever.  I must confess that even as someone who enjoys the crisp clear days of winter, I don’t ever remember looking forward to the coming of spring with quite so much intensity, nor feeling the depressive effect of bitter and dismal dreary winter days so acutely.  Edward Thomas found that these teasing mild days are often followed by wintry spells and I’m sure we have some of those still to come, but best to enjoy the good days while they are here.

Honeybee on Crocus

Insects were about in some number and bird song was beginning to fill the air as we checked out trees again around the area of the village.  The birdsong that was most noticeable was that of the Song Thrush and Robin, with one or two Wrens in full song too.  A Great Spotted Woodpecker hammered away high in the trees of the church grounds.  Bullfinches were heard occasionally about the area, but sadly none in full song, and both Greenfinch and Siskin flew above our heads.  Mistle Thrush was heard and seen and a small number of Redwings were also recorded.

Orange Ladybirds

The crocus and snowdrops were attracting insects and a notable sighting was what I believe was a Honeybee visiting the crocuses.  There was a scent of spring in the air, stemming from the earth and plant life beginning to show.   The dormant Orange Ladybirds that we had found recently on the gravestone had disappeared, but Sam had been given information on more to be found on another gravestone and these were quickly detected, all fifteen of them.  The Orange Ladybird is expanding in number now that it has adapted to Ash and Sycamore trees of which there are plenty in this area.  I have noted that this species of Ladybird thrives on white powdery mildew that forms on leaves and may feed on small aphids.  It did go through my mind that if I were to focus attention on a small area of our patch, the church grounds and the immediate area that adjoins it would be a good spot to choose.  I intend to keep watch here throughout the seasons, more so than usual.

Male flower.  Alder.

Bark of Alder

We spent a good deal of time checking out the trees and examining their buds and other aids to identification.  I am making a little progress!  Two species given particular attention were Alder and Hazel.  Both Monoecious, that is bearing both male and female flowers on the one plant as opposed to Dioecious where there is distinct male and female plants.  The tree pollen was certainly abundant when we shook an Alder branch.  We had to clean the pollen from our clothes.  Alder has an important symbiotic relationship with nitrogen fixing bacterium which is found in root nodules.  The bacterium absorbs nitrogen from the air and makes it available to the tree, which in turn provides the bacterium with sugars, which it produces through photosynthesis.

Female flower of Hazel

Male flower of Hazel

We looked at many other species of tree before setting off towards the lake.

Bud of Ash

Bud of Lime sp

Bud of Goat Willow

We have both watched Great Crested Grebes on the lake for many years and know it is about this time of year when they show up.  Having said that we have found that in recent milder winters these birds often stay throughout the year leaving only if the lake freezes over.  Happily, we were able to watch a Great Crested Grebe in perfect breeding plumage as it called to attract a mate.  We only saw the one bird, however that is not to say another wasn’t hidden in the reeds.  There will certainly be a pair showing soon and that will no doubt bring another harbinger of spring, the photographer!  As we watched the Great Crested Grebe, calls were heard calls from Little Grebes.  Look here if you want to see some fine images taken by Sam of Great Crested Grebes.

Bud of Beech

Bud of Hornbeam (Fastigiata)

Three Oystercatchers, now regulars at the lake, were calling in amongst the many Canada Geese, and many Goldeneye remain.

Bud of Elder

We had walked for three hours without covering much of a distance, so won’t be out doing Edward Thomas, but nevertheless we had seen much of interest on what was a wonderful quality day.

Saturday, 30 January 2021

Nature's Pleasant Sounds

 I recently came across the following poetical words written by John Clare whilst he lived out the latter years of his life confined to the Northampton Asylum.  For some of these years Clare was free to roam in the asylum grounds so may have still had access to at least some of these sounds, whilst some may be distant memories.

Pleasant Sounds

The rustling of leaves under the feet in woods and under hedges;
The crumpling of cat-ice and snow down wood-rides, narrow lanes, and every street causeway;
Rustling through a wood or rather rushing, while the wind halloos in the oak-toop like thunder;
The rustle of birds’ wings startled from their nests or flying unseen into the bushes;
The whizzing of larger birds overhead in a wood, such as crows, puddocks, buzzards;
The trample of robins and woodlarks on the brown leaves, and the patter of squirrels on the green moss;
The fall of an acorn on the ground, the pattering of nuts on the hazel branches as they fall from ripeness;
The flirt of the groundlark’s wing from the stubbles- how sweet such pictures on dewy mornings, when the dew flashes from its brown feathers.

John Clare

I fear Covid19 has us all under some level of indefinite confinement now and I felt it apt to list some pleasant sounds from nature that I am especially fond of.  In my case the words will be non-poetical.  One or two are distant memories from my childhood, but most are sounds commonly heard.

Pleasant Sounds.

The tide as it flows onto sand or shingle, and the quieter swish as it retreats.  The crashing of waves on the shore during heavy seas.    Waters of a stream as it gently flows by and the gentle patter of light raindrops on the leaves of woodland trees.  Waters gushing down channels of fellside after heavy storms.  The gentle plop of fish as they jump out of river or lake.

A Cuckoos call on a sunny Sunday morning as church bells ring out.  The melodic song of the Blackbird on summer evenings as the light begins to fade and night approaches.  The bark of distant deer in woodland in the cool dawn air.

The swishing sound of trolley buses driving slowly through snow and slush as the headlights flash across my childhood bedroom ceiling.  Sounds of treading through thick newly fallen snow.  The calls from skeins of geese on cold clear days of winter.  Eider Duck calls.  Ice sheets cracking as a thaw sets in.

The very beginning of the dawn chorus whilst it is still dark and before the growing crescendo from multiple species.  The rustling of reedbeds blown by a light wind.  The snuffling of the Hedgehog as it slowly makes its way across the lawn in darkness.

The drone of bumblebees as they search for pollen on hot summer days.  Small rocks rolling down steep scree.  The growing all round sound as one approaches a seabird colony and breathes in the scent of guano.  Murmurs from a Starling murmuration.  Calling from Tawny Owls in the darkness.

Churring Nightjars as sunset fades and darkness takes over.  The clap of the Nightjars wings and drumming of Snipe.  The sound of silence now so infrequently found in our modern world.  The melancholic song of the Bullfinch in winter.  The rustle of leaves blown by a gentle breeze.  The reeling of Grasshopper Warblers in late evening when other birds have fallen silent.  Calls from myriad corvids as they gather pre-roosting.

Killy Birder

Well, that is a few sounds that I enjoy, and I have deliberately not included photographic images (most expect them these days) as this is all about sound and imagination.

Sound is so important if you take seriously an interest in the natural world.  One of the reasons I gave up on group birding is that I found so many folks more interested in their own voices and that of their companions, much more so than the natural sounds around them.  I cannot help but feel John Clare would have agreed with me on that one.




Sunday, 24 January 2021

Winter Walk at Holywell

Over the years that I have written this blog an area that has made a frequent appearance, being a favourite walk of mine, is Holywell.  Sadly, in 2020 seem to remember having made only one visit early in the year before lockdown hit us.  Well, here we are again in lockdown for what seems an indefinite period and I have made a return on what was a wonderful winters day offering pellucid blue skies, sharp clear air, wide open spaces, and the more intimate wooded dene.  Everything that was required to brighten the mood.  Sam and I had planned this visit a few days ago having considered the weather forecast.  A sheer coincidence saw us watching Cain Scrimgeour aka Holwell Birder, and Heather Devey on the local news this week.  Cain’s interest in natural history as a youngster blossomed in Holywell and he is known to most who visit this area, and it is good to see him having done so well, continuing along the pathway which he connected to in childhood.

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I,
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference

From the Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

We walked from the village in the direction of the pond at first noting the birds visiting the increasing number of garden feeders, and realising we were going to be in for a very muddy time.  All the feeders were well topped up in stark contrast to the NWT feeders at the feeding station which were empty.  I realised that it might be difficult for anyone to get down here to top them up, but I did think at this time of year someone from the NWT would somehow have ensured feed was provided.  We walked down alongside the Silver Birch and heard Tree Sparrows.  The mud, which was to be with us much of the day, held signs of Moorhen.  We later sighted Tree Sparrows in the Hawthorn hedges while a Great Spotted Woodpecker flew overhead and more distantly a Sparrowhawk dropped into the woodland on the opposite side of the pond.  The water in the pond was extremely high, and in comparison to winters some years ago, held few birds.  Mute Swan, Mallard, Tufted Duck, Goldeneye, Teal, and a Cormorant were seen.  It was about now were heard our first Skylark passing overhead and we later found a small flock of 10 in flight.  A few Greylag Geese were in the air.  A confiding Robin followed us along the pathway as if seeking food.  We were by now out of the cold wind which seemed to be coming across the flashes in the western fields.  White Dead Nettle provided our first blooming flower of the year.

As well as our prints there was signs of Moorhen

White Dead Nettle

What can often be a small flash in the eastern field had grown and at its edged both Redshanks and Turnstone were feeding.  It was not long before we had several skeins of Pink footed Geese formations flying in various directions about the area towards the coast  and then appearing to move further inland, their calling unmistakeable, and one of winter’s great delights.  A large flock of Lapwing lit by the sun also flew away from the coast and seemed to be making for the area surrounding the pond.  We assumed that the coastal tide was high.  At least one Kestrel was seen and at least three Common Buzzards displayed high above.  A bright Yellowhammer made short quiet calls from a hedge.

We’d walked part of the Avenue, having to plodge through pools of water covering our feet but had decided to avoid entering the dene from this path having been advised by two friendly horse riders that we would need wellingtons to do so.  I was surprised at how much colour was shown by the Gorse along the Avenue.  A stunning lemon yellow in the sunlight. 


On arrival at dene we left the worst of the pathway pools and mud behind as we followed the higher path that gives views through the trees to the Seaton Burn below.  The mud-coloured burn was a running fast and high towards the sea and I give up hope of finding Dippers today.  Since our previous visit, several trees had been damaged to a greater or lesser extent.  In one or two areas much more light is going to reach the undergrowth, and will be worth watching for change in flora.  This natural destruction will benefit wildlife so hopefully not too much tidying up will commence.  Overall, the dene does seem to be managed well i.e., not interfered with and over tidied..  We studied a variety of trees and I tried to ensure that my new words such as epicormic and lenticel were placed firmly in my memory.

Dene footpath

One of the larger Beech Trees.

Over our lunch stop on the lower pathway birds that appeared close by included Great Spotted Woodpecker, Stock Dove, Blackbird, Robin, Wren Dunnock, Nuthatch, Great Tit, Coal, Tit, Blue Tit, Long tailed Tit and Chaffinch.  Unlike the feeders at the reserve the feeding station here was well stocked with seeds and fat balls.

Oak bark

Sycamore bark

Before re-joining the upper pathway on our return walk we found a single small Red Campion in flower and signs of Dog Violet which will flower in early spring.  Sam got his eye on birds in the fields and we counted as we watched several Mistle Thrush, Redwings and Fieldfare showing very well in the clear atmosphere.  Sometime was spent here taking in the birds and atmosphere.

Early Red Campion

Beech bud

Continuing towards the village we passed the ridge and furrow system on our left, reminding me of the long, interesting history of this area.  We were muddied, but more than content with our hours spent in the winter air.  The skies were completely clear of cloud suggesting a hard frost tonight, which proved to be the case.















Tuesday, 19 January 2021

On Patch & the ''No Idea Tree''

 All day and night, save winter, every weather,
Above the inn, the smithy, and the shop,
The aspens at the cross-roads talk together
Of rain, until their last leaves fall from the top
(From Aspens by Edward Thomas)

The almost blinding bright lemon sunlight enticed me out onto patch and I had the intention of walking to the lake then onwards to the village.  Before I got to the lake I realised that the sunlight gave a misleading suggestion of warmth, as the air was bitterly cold and the paths in part covered in thin black ice.  A fellow walker mentioned as we passed one another that there were two Water Rails at the side of the smaller lake.  This species is only a very occasional visitor to patch so I stepped out.  It was not one to miss. 

I hung around the smaller lake for an hour and a half, the cold eventually seeping through my layers.  I thought at one point that I has spotted the rails in the reeds, but distance, position and light combined to make me uncertain.  My plan to walk further came to nothing although on the positive side I did meet two or three old friends I had not seen for some time and so enjoyed a chat.  No one was picking up Water Rails.  I kept on the move partly to keep at least some warmth and partly to give different angles of view.  I did notice that now the lakes had become unfrozen the numbers of Goosanders had increased, but there were still fewer birds about than would be expected at this time of year.  I decided to give up and make home for a hot drink.  I took one last look, and low and behold, had a decent sighting of Water Rail walking out in the open before disappearing into the reeds again.  I decided that one Water Rail was enough and made for home.  I remembered the Water Rail I found in Jesmond Dene some years ago in the height of a very cold winter.  It was the first one recorded in the dene for almost 100 years!

My next trip out (lockdown will ensure that the patch sees more of me than usual) was made to the area surrounding the village, which I had intended to visit previously.  It was much milder today and the area was waterlogged.  I negotiated pools of water and a pathway which had changed to a running stream, but sadly saw extraordinarily little in the way of birds.  Conditions ensured I had the place to myself and I felt better for the walk as I took in the view across the fields in changing winter light and passing cloud formations.  I did find three sapling Horse Chestnut Trees in a line of hedge after I had carefully watched a Mistle Thrush slowly and methodically searching an area of the field.

Ladybirds on gravestone

Today, another milder, but rather grey day, I met up with Sam and we slowly wandered patch for two and a half hours.  In the main it was trees we were looking for so we began in the church grounds.  There is a Yew and an Irish Yew in there which are always worth checking out for Goldcrest.  There were once again few birds at all today.  I had not previously taken in the numbers of European Aspen growing here and several that appear to be self-setting Aspens are on the outside of the grounds too.  The root of one of the older trees was growing along and into the wall resulting in some substantial damage.  I was reminded of the poem of Edward Thomas, Aspens.  Perhaps not so surprisingly because Aspen are a food source for Ladybirds, Sam got his eye on a cluster of hibernating Ladybirds on the under-edge of a gravestone.

Aspen Bark showing lenticels

I have taken quite an interest in the European Aspen Populus tremula.  On the bark of the tree, diamond shaped lenticels function as pores which allow for the passage of gasses between tree and atmosphere.   The shape of lenticels is one of the characteristics used for the identification of species of tree e.g., the dark horizontal lines on birch are lenticels.  Aspens will often produce clones of themselves by root sprouts that can appear up to 40m away from the parent tree.  If the parent tree dies these clones can still be produced many years afterwards.

Wild Cherry Bark

World War One twin military grave.  One of those identified is probably buried in an unknown area of the grave yard.

We identified many species of tree as we continued our walk including several Horse Chestnut and later at least two Sweet (Spanish) Chestnut.  The name Spanish derives from the fact not that the trees are of Spanish origin, but because the deep swirling bark markings are mindful of flamenco dancers.  We were wondering if the Spanish Chestnuts could have been part of the Avenue of trees which once led from Killingworth House which was demolished in the 1950s.  More research required here I think.  The three trees that Sam confirmed were part of the Avenue are the large old Beech, Horse Chestnut and Sycamore in what is now parkland.

'Sticky' bud of Horse Chestnut.

Bark of Sweet Chestnut

I enjoyed my time spent on tree identification.  Every now and again I would get a reply from Sam along the lines ‘no idea’ when I asked about species, hence the title of the blog.  We are both out to learn, although I have some catching up to do.

Old Lime (prob small leaved)

Early showing of Lime leaf  on  18th January

Not so many birds were seen, but my bird of the day was a male Bullfinch giving an exotic look in the diminishing light.  I had hoped for a song from Bullfinch today but we only heard short calling notes.  The next few weeks are a good time to listen for the melancholic Bullfinch song, however.   The same Mistle Thrush (recognised by obvious markings) was still feeding in the same spot as it had been the other day)

Macro image of moss sp.

Today I am pleased to see that the Song Thrush missing for a few days has returned to my garden, along with a few other species including numbers of House Sparrows which I missed when they deserted the area for a time

Friday, 1 January 2021

New Year's Day

Before heading down to the lake with my first foot Sam, I watched a garden which has been quiet for some time.  First three birds seen were Blue Tit, Blackbird and Song Thrush.  The female Blackbird appears to think that the garden is her territory by right and behaves extremely aggressively towards any other bird, especially the Song Thrush.


Thawing Lake

We found the lake largely ice free, however I think numbers of birds had left, the lake having been frozen in recent days.  The sun was still quite low in the sky and the thawing smaller lake was a sun glade in places, and the numerous gulls formed a nice picture on the thinning ice.  To the west and far end of the larger lake a bright rainbow also painted a colourful picture in the dimmer light.  I could not help but think of the numerous rainbow pictures I have seen in people’s windows in the last months.  The larger lake held its usual birds, but fewer of them, only one male Pochard and one female Goosander.  The Goosander and male Goldeneye were lit by the sun and the latter bird especially, looked stunning with golden eyes and plumage showing so well, and was to remain my bird sighting of the day.

After walking to the far end of the large lake we doubled back and walked through the small woodland area where we found the likes of Redwings, Long Tailed Tit, Blue Tit, Great Tit, Bullfinch and Goldfinch.  We chatted to a local birder who was certain that he had seen a Woodcock fly off on his approach.  I must say the area looked ideal for that species.  Passing the small lake again we sighted Grey Heron.

Later the church grounds gave us nice sightings of Treecreeper and Great Spotted Woodpecker and it was good to hear drumming on the first day of the year.  We began more closely to study the trees more closely from here on.  As far as I am concerned 2021 is to be the year of the tree, the year that I get to grips with a wider knowledge of tree species.  I think many Killingworth folk would be surprised at how many species of tree there are in the area.  Sadly, there are many who would not be interested.

Harvestman Spider on Oak

We wandered around the area at the back of the village and had a long chat to a couple about various places of interest that we had all visited or would like to visit.  By now, despite a small shower the air felt much milder than of late.  There were more Bullfinches here along with Chaffinch, Greenfinch, tits and the ever-present numbers of Magpies.  Despite numbers of Carrion Crow and Jackdaw we found very few Rooks today.  Unfortunately, the once thriving rookery in the village is far smaller now.  When I first moved to the area I used to watch this rookery with interest, but that seems such a long time ago now.  Nuthatch was heard and seen briefly and we took some time looking at the lichens growing on the trees.


We ended our walk in the small parkland, once part of the demolished Killingworth Hall.  The birding highlight here were the Siskins.   More of our time was spent examining the trees and chatting to passers-by about them.  There are some notable Northumbrian trees here not least being the old Beech Tree, the old hollow Sycamore and the Horse Chestnut Tree with its sticky buds.  Why are they sticky I am wondering?  Everything is for a purpose and I am guessing this stickiness has evolved as some kind of protection.  Whatever, I have decided I like sticky buds.  As Sam says, this time of year is a difficult time begin to learn about trees, but I like a challenge and with Sam’s help I hope to make advances.  Botany in general is to be a focus this year.  I am far less inclined these days to be focussed solely on birding as there is so much more to take note of and investigate.  I have never been a twitcher and this past year have not even kept my usual annual list, but continue to find reward from my general interest in the natural world and related history.

Sam and the old Beech Tree

Aged hollow Sycamore

We said our goodbyes at the park and made for home after a very enjoyable four hours.  I thought about the history of this area and how much it has changed.  How many pitmen, farmers and other labourers have in the past taken the same route as I was taking along what is a pathway with a long history.  What was a nature trail when I first moved here has now been largely destroyed by the insistence of residents to remove hedging and even trees, often outside of there land, and replace these with the likes of ugly wooden fences.  Is there some hope that humankind will ever learn to live with the nature surrounding us rather than attempting to rule it and destroy it?  I do not want to be pessimistic at the beginning of a new year, so I would like to think that one day nature will be appreciated by all.  Happy New Year and may, 2021 be an improvement on the year that has just passed. 

Wednesday, 2 December 2020

Beginning Winter in the Breamish Valley

The 1st of December and the meteorological beginning of winter found us in the Breamish Valley.  The river Breamish is one of eight rivers that rise in the Cheviots, The Breamish becoming the River Till near Wooler.  This is a tributary of The River Tweed and the only one that flows exclusively in England.  Today we were here as much for the landscape and habitat as much as for the bird life.

All of us interested in the natural world reach that interest along differing pathways and at different periods of our lives, and how and when this occurs depends very much upon opportunities open to us.  Along with many others my passion for nature did not ignite during my early years, but nevertheless I consider that passion equal to most.  My real interest was ignited not by direct experience or helpful support of a more experienced friend, but rather by three particular TV series that were broadcast in the 1970s to early 1980s.  These were David Attenborough’s Life on Earth, The Voyage of the Beagle and a local programme which featured naturalist and artist James Alder and a gentleman of the name of Ian Armstrong.  Local naturalists will need no introduction to James Alder, but may not be so aware of Ian Armstrong.  Ian worked for the RSPB and was given the role of raising the profile of the organisation in the North east of England.  He became the first leader of the Local RSPB Group in 1969, a role I filled for a few years at a much later date.  Both James and Ian were good communicators (I have found over the years that many knowledgeable folk are not good at communicating) and always happy to share their knowledge of the natural world, a character trait I have always rated highly in any naturalist and I was pleased to have later known both men, if only in passing.  The programme which these two-gentleman presented which had such an effect upon me was made in the Breamish Valley and introduced me to both Dipper and Nuthatch.   I had never seen either bird in the wild.  Today I was hoping to find both species and I could not help feeling that James and Ian were with us, if only in spirit.

River Breamish

After a brief stop at the bridge at Ingram we drove further into the valley and then walked a stretch of the river.  Temperatures were low and it was a typical early winter scene with much of the colour around us being of pastel hues of purple, ochre and sienna, often broken by the varying greens of coniferous trees and the golden colour of the still flowering pockets of gorse.  The banks of the river held many Alders and the occasional aged and twisted Hawthorn.  Above us on the hillside was a large area of Silver Birch, a species of tree that is a favourite of mine.  A party of Blackbirds fed gluttonously upon the bright red berries of a lone Mountain Ash, high on the hillside.  Despite the glut of berries still apparent, there seemed still to be the usual competition seen within this species.  A Mistle Thrush called, a Common Buzzard flew slowly but powerfully along by the ridge of the hills and pairs of Kestrel were spotted on several occasions.  Fieldfare flew back and forth across the valley in small flocks and a single Redwing was recorded, as was a single unmistakeable Jay and Great Spotted Woodpecker in buoyant flight.  Pheasants were heard and occasionally seen, one of which perched camouflaged high in a tree at the road edge.  Carrion Crows were plentiful and small numbers of Wood Pigeon flew high across the valley.

Silver Birches

With little to no wind, at times the valley was silent apart from the sound of the waters of the Breamish as it made its way down the valley passing over the rocks and pebbles of varying size and shape.  A sun glade appeared from time to time on surface of the waters which at times reflected a dark grey hue, at other times a bright ultramarine, depending upon the state of the ever-changing cloud cover and angle of view.


As we continued our walk Woodcock lifted and flew low and away from our path, landing some distance away from us.  It wasn’t long before we heard the call of Dippers flying up and down the river and soon afterwards we had good sightings of these birds, two pairs in fact.  Each bird very conscious of our presence, but despite this we were able to enjoy the high-pitched melodic song from individual birds of each pair.  Both the male and female are known to sing and will on occasions sing whilst in flight.  A song often underrated and perhaps even more often missed altogether by the less sensitive ear. Without any attempt at a careful search we found four used Dipper nests and I watched as one of the birds inspected one of these.  With hindsight and knowing Dippers will often build more than one nest at breeding time, I’m thinking that one or two of these nests may have been started, but unfinished.  The nest is often built directly over water and the young birds may evade predation by dropping from the nest onto the water even before they have developed flight.  In the case of the nests we saw perhaps the youngsters would be safer remaining put as beneath the nest was solid concrete.   Being early breeders, hopefully these pairs will have fledged young before the end of winter.  I suspect however, along with the other birds of the valley they will have hard wintry conditions to endure beforehand.  Having watched the Dippers at some length we retraced our steps and drove back to Ingram to view the church and hopefully find Nuthatch.

As we sat in the car eating lunch we watched an acrobatic Red Squirrel in the trees ahead of us, a species not seen in Northumberland by either one of us for quite some time.  Having had our fill of both lunch and Red Squirrel we walked through the silent woodland to the church.  A small patch of Herb Robert and Red Campion provided small amounts of colour under the shadows of the trees.  There has been a church at this site since before the Norman Conquest.  In medieval times this building was of grand appearance.  However as hard times hit the area the local population dismantled large parts of the church, being unable to afford the upkeep.  Eventually there was much deterioration until a rector and his sister during the Victorian Period ensured that what is more or less the present church, was built.  The rector’s wife and two children had been killed in an accident whilst in southern England, the children on their way to a private school.  The rector ensured that the church was restored in their memory.  The church grounds have a war grave of a local 23-year-old Coldstream Guardsman, killed in the Second World War.

We returned via the dark atmospheric woodland and the river to find that the Ash copse now held numbers of birds.  This included Nuthatch which we heard, but never did see.  A feeding mixed flock of birds appeared to have arrived, most numerous were the Long-Tailed Tits which were continually active.  Also present were Chaffinch, Blue Tit, Cole Tit, Great Tit and Treecreeper.  A Bullfinch was also heard.  Sadly, should Ash Die Back hit this copse it will be decimated.

We returned to the car to find a Robin which showed no timidity at all and after taking some close up images of it I was able to feed it from my hand and it seemed to appreciate the currants from a piece of fruit loaf.  I am thinking this Robin has been accustomed to being fed by visitors.  After having its fill, it flew into the nearby tree and began to quietly enter into quiet melodic song.  It would be over sentimental to suggest it was offering thanks.  A Grey Heron flew overhead.

By now the skyscape was a mix of azure, streaked by white cloud.  The skyscape continued to give dramatic effect above an equally dramatic landscape as we drove home via Rothbury.

My thanks go to Sam for providing the usual great companionship and on this occasion help with tree identification, something I must give attention to.  Thanks too to James and Ian for the inspiration given all those years ago.  The Dipper continues to be among my favourite bird species.  The natural world has taken a beating in the intervening years, but whilst areas like the Breamish Valley continue to exist there is hope.