Sunday, 2 January 2022

New Year's Day Patch Walk 2022.

 Happy New Year to all.  May 2022 bring you health, nature experiences and happiness.

And some Joni Mitchell lyrics as we enter 2022 for North Tyneside Council

They took all the trees
Put 'em in a tree museum
Then they charged the people
A dollar and a half just to see 'em

Don't it always seem to go
That you don't know what you've got 'til it's gone?
They paved paradise
Put up a parking lot

It has long been my custom to take a walk on patch on New Year’s Day whatever the weather conditions.  Over the past eleven years it has been with Sam, barring one year when he was unable to rise from bed having had a touch too much to drink on New Year’s Eve which had left him newt like.  Our walk is never aimed at amassing a large list of bird species, after all there are another 364 days in the year to catch sight of birds.  Our intention has always been just to enjoy a few hours on patch and to take what comes.  Folk often ask us during the walk if we have been anywhere else prior to them speaking and or where we are off to next.  The answer is always the same, we have not been anywhere else and we do not intend to travel anywhere else today.  Despite North Tyneside Councils best attempts there is still a patch left for us to enjoy and we make the most of it while we can.  More and more building works are lined up for the future and you just never know what green space is going to disappear next.  Sadly quite a few trees have already disappeared following the recent storms. 

Skyscape.  Perhaps one of the few open spaces that will be left after the Council get finished.

Everyone we bump into are usually courteous and talkative on New Year’s Day, they have the rest of the year to be miserable if they so wish.  Today’s elevated temperatures made it feel like spring had arrived.  My first bird of the year was a Robin singing in the garden before chasing after another.  Early courtship I believe.  After Sam had become my first foot for 2022 we set off.  A Mistle Thrush sang from the top of the trees but this storm cock did not bring a storm.  In fact, the clouds soon broke to eventually bring blue skies.  The calls of Pink-footed Geese were heard before we saw the skein fly overhead and a Nuthatch continually called.

Lichen species.

Lichen species.

The village and it surrounds were  noticeably quiet but we managed to pick out a few interesting plants whilst listening to the Wrens and catching sight of Bullfinches and a party of Long tailed Tits.  A Kestrel was seen in the area on two occasions.  Kestrels used to be commonly seen in the centre of our patch years ago when there was spare waste ground.  Nowadays your much more likely to find Sparrowhawks here and the Kestrel, much diminished in numbers throughout the country, is usually only found on the outer fringes of the patch  Early last year we had found a number of hibernating Orange Ladybirds and then in the late autumn had found numerous Harlequin Ladybirds along with the Orange Ladybirds (I’ll save that find for a separate blog).  Today we found them again and we believe this area likely holds hundreds of these species.  We initially found two Harlequins woken from hibernation, no doubt by the unusually warm conditions.  Such conditions accounted for a lack of birds that we would have normally expected.

Orange Ladybirds with Harlequin Ladybird.

Orange Ladybirds

Orange Ladybirds with Harlequin Ladybirds.

Having passed the regular white winged Jackdaw, we headed of towards the lake.  Once in the open the conditions there was more of a wind which later in the day grew quite strong.  By now we had clear blue sky.

The smaller lake held 10+ Gadwall, a species never seen on the lake just a few years ago, but now a regular.  Mallard, Tufted Duck and Coot were also here.  We soon found a Little Grebe on the larger lake.  Other birds here included Mallard, Goosander, Tufted Duck, Pochard Goldeneye, Moorhen, Canada Geese and a small number of Mute Swans.  Gulls seen were Black Headed, Common, Herring and Great Black Backed.

A Pied Wagtail was seen near a dying Mute Swan which by the time we reached it was in fact dead and been pecked at by a gull.  It seems likely that it was a victim of avian influenza which is affecting the country to a high degree.  The dead bird was carefully bagged taken away by a lady in protective clothing and face covering.  A young Swan nearby was behaving very strangely and we would not be surprised if this too succumbs.  There have been a number of dead swans on the lake recently and this is probably explained in the main by avian influenza and why there are so few Mute Swans remaining.

Sam picked up the call of a Siskin feeding in the Alder and we spotted it as it flew off over the lake.

We retraced our steps and returned to the village area and onwards to home.  It was still very warm, the sun was shinning and the sky was clear blue.  Would I have given up this enjoyable nature walk to tear around Northumberland amassing a grand list?  The answer is a definite no. 

Harts Tongue Fern with fern species.

I am not one for New Year’s Resolutions but I do set myself projects.  In 2021 it was to read as many works as possible by John Le Carre and non-fiction writer Ben Macintyre.  Their works have nothing to do with nature I know, but I enjoy secret agent stories.  I did quite well.  I have decided that the project for 2022 is to read as much as possible about Northeast Natural History, and Local History of my immediate surroundings.  Oh yes, and to get more exercise.  I’ve started well as I have just come back from a 2 hour walk on path again today, the 2nd of January.  My list of birds yesterday was a mere thirty-nine, but a very enjoyable thirty-nine along with nature in general and some good chat with passing folk.

Friday, 12 November 2021

An Autumnal Southeast Northumberland

So mild, so quiet breathes the balmy air,

 Scenting the perfume of decaying leaves

Such fragrance and such loveliness they wear-

Trees, hedgerows, bushes – that the heart receives

Joys for which language owneth words too few

To paint that glowing richness which I view.

From Colours of Autumn.  John Clare

 It was more mid-morning than early morning when Sam and I headed for Widdrington Pond.  It was a morning of blue skies, relative warmth, only the slightest of breezes and a millpond sea.  A perfect autumnal day.  I was even warm watching over Widdrington Pond, and that is a rarity even in summer.  Even the wind turbines looked good against blue the sky today.  This area has become a real magnet for birds, although I fear as the tress grow watching will not be easy unless special provision is made.

Whatever one thinks you have to recognise the beautiful mechanical design

As we basked in the sun, some very good sightings were made including four grebe species, Slavonian, Red necked, Great Crested and Little Grebe.  A Marsh Harrier made a fly past, flying parallel to the pond, a Kestrel hovered directly in front of us, a Common Buzzard flew by, a Sparrowhawk flew in the far distance and a Peregrine Falcon flew swiftly past and away from us.  So not a bad way to begin the day, four grebes and five raptors from that one spot.  Unfortunately, were unable to pick up the Great Northern Diver which must have been hidden by the side of the pond.  Even after we returned later in the day we had no luck in finding this one.

Grey Herons were posted equally spaced and sentinel like along the bank at the back of the pond, a Common Snipe lifted at the edge of the pond, a skein of calling Pink-footed Geese flew northwards and a small party of Whooper Swans were also in the air.  Waterfowl on the water included Canada Geese, Wigeon, Teal, Goldeneye and Tufted Duck.  A Roe Deer moved through the field behind the lake, half hidden by growth of similar pastel colouring to itself.  Calls from or over the trees behind us included that of Siskin, Coal Tit and Goldcrest.  A Water Rail called from the pond area.  A confiding Robin watched us walk by.

Aspens

Many of the trees were colourful, but none more so than the Aspens which showed so well against the blue sky.  The rustling of the leaves recalled Edward Thomas’s poem Aspens.  Having taken a photo or two we headed off to East Chevington, with a quick stop off at Druridge Park for a Long Tailed Duck, where we walked to the mouth of the burn.  On the walk we spotted several Dragonflies on the wing, reflecting what a mild autumn we have experienced, all Common Darters I think, including a mature male and over mature females.  The reed beds looked most attractive in the bright sunlight.

And it would be the same were no house near,

Over all sorts of weather, men, and times

Aspens must shake their leaves and men may hear

But need not listen, more than to my rhymes.

 

Whatever wind blows, while they and I have leaves

We cannot other than an Aspen be

That ceaselessly, unreasonably grieves,

Or so men think that like a different tree.

From Aspens by Edward Thomas (July 1915), Edward Thomas died in the Great War at Arras in 1917)

Aspens

Over mature Common Darter

We found little birdlife by the mouth of the burn which meandered attractively seawards.  Gulls and a few Sanderlings were at the tideline, Meadow Pipit and Pied Wagtail were present and a flock of Goldfinch flew by.  A few walkers were seen but overall, it was a peaceful experience here.  One of the good experiences in life is watching and listening the tide as it meets the shoreline.  The sea was as calm as it ever is in these parts.  We walked back past the Sea Buckthorn and found a pair of Stonechat before reaching the car.

Natures shapes

Sea Buckthorn

The North Pool provided another Slavonian Grebe along with 250/300 Lapwing, and a large flock of Gadwall.  The Lapwing looked spectacular in the sun as they lifted in two or three flocks before merging into one large flock prior to settling on the island again.  I love to watch flocks of waders in flight.  Other birds on the water included a male Pintail, Mallard, Wigeon, Teal, Goldeneye, Tufted Duck, Little Grebe, Mute Swan, Moorhen and Cormorants.  A Water Rail squealed three times in quick succession from the reed-bed, and a Cetti’s Warbler called from the left of us.  From the corner of my eye, I caught sight of a bird fly in front of the reeds at the edge of the pool.  I watched the gap in the reeds and saw the Kingfisher fly past which Sam later heard calling.  In the sun it looked of emerald colouring.

As we made off towards the car we watched another Marsh Harrier.

Sunlit reedbed


We had lunch a late lunch at Cresswell before looking at the north end of Cresswell Pond.  A Little Egret was seen flying over the pond.  It was quiet here and the light was beginning to fade but that did not spoil our watch of another hunting Marsh Harrier close by.  This was the same bird that we had seen at Widdrington Pond, identified by missing primary feathers.

Now in fading light we decided to give the hide a miss.   Content with our few hours birding in wonderful autumnal conditions we made for home.

Qeesti giorni guando vien il belle sole Questi giorni guando vieni belle sole

On Days like these when skies are blue and fields are green

I look around and think of what might have been.

Matt Monro et al

 

Monday, 8 November 2021

Phalarope, Shearwater and Atmosphere

 Generally, we are not ones to twitch but the opportunity of a Wilson’s Phalarope was not one we were going to dismiss so we began our day with a trip to Newstead Flash, Northumberland.  I was prepared to be hit by chilly air but standing in the sun at Newstead felt almost summer like.  The Wilson’s Phalarope was easily found as it spent most of it’s time spinning on the pool.  It’s spinning believed to be a feeding technique in which food is drawn to the surface.  Although mainly on the water, it did lift and fly and spent time on land edging the flash, so giving us a very good sighting.  Although small when seen against the Black Headed Gulls it did appear the stouter of the three phalarope species.  This will certainly be a memorable sighting and perhaps my sighting of the year.  A first winter bird, its yellow legs were very distinctive as was the needle like bill.

 

Wilson's Phalarope in a spin.  Video courtesy of Samuel Hood.

My interest in ornithological history and naming of birds later had me rereading of the American Ornithologist Alexander Wilson.  In my view Wilson is certainly the equal to John James Audubon of whom we hear so much about.  Wilson was originally from Paisley, Scotland and emigrated to America when twenty-seven years of age.  I confess that I have just learned that there is a statue of Wilson in the town of Paisley which commemorates his standing in the ornithological world.  He was a true ornithological pioneer in the USA, travelling thousands of miles, much of it on foot, when much of Eastern America was still true wilderness and many birds remained unknown.  Wilson on one occasion met Audubon and showed him his drawings, perhaps igniting in Audubon thoughts of achieving similar work.  Wilson's greatest achievement was the 9 volumes of  American Ornithology.  The 9th volume was completed after his death by  George Ord.   Whilst searching Wilsons material of notes and drawings Ord found a drawing of an unknown phalarope later described by Louis Vieillot in 1819.   Joseph Sabine described the bird as Phalraropus wilsoni in 1823, not knowing that the bird had already been described.  Of course, this name was thus deemed invalid, but the common name Wilson’s Phalarope has stood the test of time.

We eventually moved on from our relaxing watch of the phalarope and stopped off at a more hectic Stag Rock.  There were several groups of birders, so we guessed that the Great Shearwater was still showing.  Having noted the crowds of walkers on Bamburgh beach, we soon had the Great Shearwater in our sights and had good views of it both on the water and in flight.  It was difficult at times picking it out when it joined the frenzy of feeding gulls.  It had been a good start to the day.  Numbers of Purple Sandpipers and Dunlin had gathered on the rocks and other seabirds seen included Red Throated Divers, Common Scoter, Eider, Little Gulls in number, Razorbill, Guillemot, Puffin and Gannet.  We did tire a little of the constant directions to birds, often unclear ones being called out and we were happy to move on to more peaceful surroundings, but not before finding a flock of Linnets, Bramblings calling as they flew along the tide coast, Skylark and Meadow Pipit and watching a distant inland Peregrine Falcon.

Our next search was for somewhere to eat.  Lucker was a childhood haunt of mine, so we tried the Apple Inn there, but there were no meals until 3.00pm.  We were turned away from another pub as it was too late for lunch at 1.30pm!  Ending up in Belford we found one pub was not serving food and another two were closed.  I was beginning to understand how Mary and Joseph felt.  I have not been to Belford since childhood but noticed that there is still a toyshop there.  I later wondered if this was the shop I bought my toy microscope almost 60 years ago.  We finally had a nice meal close to Lindisfarne.  Later, although the sea covered the causeway, we stopped at the land side and spent a short but very enjoyable time just taking in the atmosphere, the land, sea and skyscapes, and listening to the silence being broken only by evocative bird calls and the very occasional car.  The air remained mild and still as I began to imagine all the events that have taken place here over millennium.  Dark storm clouds began to appear out at sea and colouration from a minor rainbow emerged in the cloud filled sky.  Calling skeins of Pink footed Geese flew overhead in arrow like shapes, two Common Snipe lifted and called as they passed over us, Curlews and Redshank called nearby, and Grey Partridges called from the nearby fields.  A large distant flock of Golden Plover seemed like a magic carpet of smoke in the air, and two Little Egrets showed at their very best in the now fading light.  In the distance there were flocks of Brent and Barnacle Geese.  Nearby quiet calls of Robin and Wren could be heard.  It wasn’t easy to leave this tranquil spot, but we wanted to reach Fenham Flats before the light disappeared entirely.  Kestrels and Red legged Partridges were seen along the way


The tranquillity continued at Fenham Flats where we found a few Brent Geese, Redshank, Oystercatchers and a Grey Plover directly in front of the hide.  There were more bird calls in the still air, especially that of whistling Wigeon. Large flocks of waders, and waterfowl were gathered further north, including Brent Geese, Shelduck, Wigeon, Teal, Grey Plover and Dunlin.  I closed my eyes for a time and simply listened from the hide.


We left for home as the rain began with our minds at peace.  The Wilson’s Phalarope had been the star bird of the day followed closely by the Great Shearwater, a bird that breeds on island in the southern hemisphere and is a great ocean traveller.  However equally enjoyable was the atmospheric ending to our day, and  thank goodness we can still enjoy this, all away from the maddening crowd.

Friday, 15 October 2021

A Return to Lindisfarne

No man is an island,

Entire of itself;

Every man is a piece of the continent, 

A part of the main.

John Donne

Islands have a significant effect upon the minds of many visitors, which can only be described as spiritual.  I do not use the term spiritual in a standard religious sense, although no doubt religious feelings play a part with some folk. My own spirit is touched by the light, the nature, the history, extensive skies and seas and often the community spirit.  I feel sure that Martin Martin will have had similar feelings during his tour of the Scottish Western Isles in 1697 and 1699 especially on his arrival at St Kilda.   Martin Martin later wrote A Description of the Western Islands of Scotland describing his experiences on the islands and incidentally, wrote early descriptions of Scotch Whisky.   Samuel Johnson and Boswell took a copy of Martin’s Book with them on their own tour of the islands.  I have no idea if this included the descriptions of Scotch Whisky, but I feel sure they will have tasted a variety of malts during their trip as there were not averse to a tipple or two.  More recently we have had TV programmes of visits to the Isles by Chris Packham and Ben Fogle, both of whom seemed spiritually moved by the trips.  I suppose the more cynical reader may say that in their case they were handsomely paid to be moved.

Lindisfarne

Sam and I made our return this week, and in our case it was to Lindisfarne, arguably not a true island at all, but for all intents and purposes it is, and it does certainly have that island feel.  In my mind Lindisfarne is every bit of an island as say Skye, which has its road bridge to the mainland.  I certainly had my spirits raised by the visit despite us not being alone.  Cars filled the causeway at times and the carpark was heaving.  Northumberland council must make a fortune at £7 to park for the day.  It’s just a pity they don’t spend some of the cash on filling the potholes in the field.  It is an exorbitant charge in my view.

We had stopped at Budle Bay on the journey north and found some good sightings in the bay including flocks of Brent Geese, Barnacle Geese and Pink footed Geese, along with large numbers of Shelduck, Shoveler, and Wigeon, a couple of Little Egrets, Lapwing, Oystercatchers, Grey Plover, Dunlin, Redshank, Curlew and Black tailed Godwit. Two or three Kestrels had been seen on the drive during which the rain had fallen as a constant drizzle, but happily stopped as we approached the coast and was felt no more during the day.

Brent Geese

We got our eye on Brent Geese close to the causeway on the mainland side, so pulled in to take a good look.  A Greenshank was heard flying in and it gave an excellent sighting on the opposite side of the causeway.  I doubt if many of the car passengers crossing to the island gave this wonderful bird a second, or even a first glance.  It was my bird of the day without doubt.  Greenshanks evoke thoughts of wilderness areas in my mind.  I remember the excellent book written by Desmond Nethersole Thompson after forty years of studying this species in Scotland.  I remember views on Desmond vary and are not all good ones, not least because of his egg collecting and opinionated views.  In my opinion any man who shows the passion for birds that Desmond had, along with the determination to study a species f. forty years is an alright guy, despite the faults.  Redshank and Curlew also approached as we watched the Brent Geese.  We moved on to ensure getting into the carpark.

Redshank

Curlew

It was the Lonnen we made for first, not least because this is where the Red eyed Vireo had been recorded.  A rare vagrant from North America and one which would prove to be a lifer for us both.  The area around the farm held numbers of House Sparrow, sadly seldom seen or heard these days, although thankfully still visiting my garden.  Redwings flew overhead, some of them lifting from an ample supply of berries along the hedges.

It was not too long before we had a decent if brief sighting of the very active Red eyed Vireo.   During our watch we had chatted to several birders all targeting the same bird.  More than one person pondered upon what would become of this bird.  Pleased though I was with this sighting it comes only third on my birds of the day list, although I am pleased to add it to my life list.  The Greenshank and Brent Geese were not to be beaten.

The day was not one which offered a heavy fall of migrants.  We did find numbers of Roe Deer, Goldcrests, Wren, Chaffinch, Skylarks and Meadow Pipits.  Brambling was heard calling from afar, and Sam picked up the sound of Golden Plover before we watched them lift and fly murmuration style in good numbers.

Walking past the dunes and onwards towards the lough there were few birds to be seen.  A look across the sea did provide Grey Seal and several immature Gannets and Shag.  Our minds turned to unnamed but attractive fungi, remains of Grass of Parnassus, the attractive disc like leaves of Marsh Pennywort and Spleenwort growing on the dry-stone walls.  Having reached the lough, we found it very quiet apart from good numbers of Wigeon, Mute Swans and Shoveler there was little else of note.  As we walked on towards the village a Kestrel atop of a post gave an excellent sighting, but just like it neither of us had brought the necessary lens to capture an image.  Lapwings called from the fields to our right and they were accompanied by a few Curlews.  Our final stop was at the harbour where we enjoyed an ice-cream.  Ringed Plover, Grey Plover, Dunlin, Redshank and Bar tailed Godwits were seen here.  In the channel behind we watched Red Throated Diver, Guillemot, Eider Duck, CormorantPied Wagtail picked at the sea weeds.

Spleenwort

We walked back to the car well pleased with our excellent day on atmospheric Lindisfarne and having managed to avoid the crowds.  I treated myself to a tub of comb honey which was expensive at £6.50, but not daylight robbery as was the parking charge!

Having decided on having a meal on the way home we found most places packed and neither of us fancied fish and chips today.  We finally found space at the Masons Arms in Warkworth.  I’d almost fallen asleep in the car so a very nice meal served in a nice atmosphere by very friendly staff woke me up.  Our desert was another ice-cream.  Hey, come on, you must live dangerously sometimes.  Having not walked so far for quite some time I began to stiffen up but a hot bath prior to my head hitting the pillow worked wonders.  Life felt normal, and long may that feeling last. 

Monday, 20 September 2021

Birds, Boots and Boats

The morning began like a Dad’s Army sketch and I almost heard Corporal Jones calling ‘don’t panic, don’t panic’ as I frantically searched every room and cupboard in the house for my boots.  I decided to look in the recycling bin as a last resort (don’t ask), and there they were.  Having checked for vermin and noted that they smelt no worse than normal, I was ready for the off towards the coast.  Disaster had been narrowly avoided, as the bin was collected the following morning.

Arriving at Hartley we found the sea as still and calm as a mill pond, and the close in Bottle Nosed Dolphins showed very well.  A blue phase Fulmar was soon spotted close to the cliff edge.  The last one of these I had seen was on a Martin Kitching pelagic and as a coincidence one of his tours was on the sea today.  We had a short walk and there was not a hint of wind.  Other birds seen included large rafts of Guillemot and Razorbill, Red Throated Divers, Common Scoter, Eider Duck, Cormorants and Gulls.  There was some thought that a distant skua was a Pomarine Skua, but we weren’t certain.  Oystercatchers were heard, Curlew seen and the Golden Plover had amassed on St Mary’s Island.

Blue Clipper

What really caught the eye today, and the eye of several others, was the two Tall Ships leaving Blyth harbour.  Sam managed to find their names on his app, the second one was the Blue Clipper, a three masted gaff rig schooner, which has ten sails with an area of 675m².  It was built in Sweden in 1991.  This was the ship that really caught the eye.  It was a stunning sight and would have been even more stunning had the upper sails been raised, but as there was no wind that was going to be unlikely.

My mind wandered back to my teenage years when I was a crew member on a rather smaller, but no less exciting sailing ship of the name Equinoxe, a 60ft gaff cutter.  I’d won a place as a crew member through a Daily Mirror competition and we embarked from Hamble, Hampshire, and visited Yarmouth on the Isle of Wight, Alderney and Cherbourg, France.  During the evenings we were able to visit the flesh pots of each place, well, we did spend one evening at a disco at Cherbourg.  I have no recollection as to how we found that but I do remember enjoying French fries earlier in the day.  One special bit of excitement occurred on our return in the dark at Alderney when the anchor began to drag which nearly had us floating out of control into the Channel.  I had no real interest in ornithology as a teenager so may have missed some good birding during the trip.  I wonder what the years have brought the other crew members.  Happy days and innocent fun.  It came as quite a shock when I realised this was 51 years ago, but happily I retain my good looks!


A teenage Killy on the Equinoxe 1970

My fellow crew members at Cherbourg.  All good kids.

Last week Sam and I visited Cresswell, East Chevington and Newbiggin.  The day began rather damp and misty, but quickly improved so that we were soon in the sun.  It was good to see the water level at Cresswell Pond low and thus there was plenty of birdlife.  I had thought we would have the hide to ourselves, but it was full.  It was nice to chat to a Scottish couple down here on holiday.  They had been Munro baggers in years gone by but the walking has become too tough.  Join the club I thought.

I got my eye on a large female Sparrowhawk standing in front of the reed bed which everyone else had missed.  One guy just couldn’t find it in his binoculars and it eventually flew off without him seeing it.  A young Marsh Harrier flew for some time over the fields to the west of the hide.  Waders included 2 Greenshank, Avocet, Oystercatcher, Lapwing, Golden Plover, Dunlin, Redshank, Curlew, Bar tailed Godwit, Black tailed Godwit and Common Snipe.  There was a Pink footed Goose amongst the Greylags and a Barnacle Goose amongst the Canada Geese.  Little Egrets were present and duck species included growing numbers of Wigeon.

We had a good sighting of a Spoonbill feeding at Druridge Pools and at East Chevington Great Crested Grebe, Little Grebe and Ruff were present, but these two areas were generally quiet.  We made an ice cream stop as we passed Cresswell on our return.

Newbiggin provided a skein of Brent Geese flying north, and other birds included a Black Guillemot briefly seen by Sam.

It had been good to be out and about with some good birds seen and still quite a bit of botanical interest to note.  My boots are safely put away in the cupboard until the next outing and my mind remains intact.

Harts Tongue Fern on path to hide Creswell

Tansies also on same path

Having watched so many Guillemots and Razorbills just off the shoreline it is not good news to hear that they are being washed up dead in large numbers on the east coast.  It seems uncertain as yet what the cause is for what appears to be starvation and unusual behaviour in that some have been found miles upriver.  Harmful algal blooms affecting the food chain has been one possible explanation.

 

 

  

Monday, 28 June 2021

Dragons, Damsels, Butterflies, Orchids and Proud Parents

 

Every so often and often unexpectedly, special time is spent in a special place, and the sun shines.  Today was one of those occasions.  We had decided rather than traveling to explore habitats near Kielder that our time would be spent closer to home.  What a wise choice this turned out to be.  I will not name the locality, but local naturalists will I’m sure work it out for themselves.

Large Red Damselfly on Northern Marsh Orchid

As we approached the lane leading to the rather unusual and almost hidden entrance a Common Buzzard flew overhead and Speckled Wood Butterflies flew from the hedge.  We entered via the gate come fence and found utopia, and were immediately surrounded by the song of Willow Warblers.  We had the area to ourselves for the next few hours apart from a family calling by to count the cygnets.  I completely forgot that there was a busy road nearby and I even cut out the sound of artillery fire which had initially made me feel as though we were entering an ongoing conflict.

Mute Swan and cygnets

Little Grebe carrying young

The Mute Swan pen stood sentinel like over her brood, and the hissing threat aimed towards us made sure that we understood not to approach too closely.  I don’t like the use of the term cute to be used in respect of wildlife, but I suppose I could make an exception in this case.  The cob of the pair was energetically washing and preening in the centre of the pond.  I watched the brood climb from the water and settle on the grass.  They were not the only family of birds here.  A Little Grebe carried her young across the water of the larger of the two reed bordered ponds and a pair of Canada Geese guarded their one youngster.  We kept our distance so that none of these birds were in any way disturbed.

Four spotted Chaser Dragonfly

The odonata caught the eye as soon as we approached the larger pond and initially it was the large number of
Four-spotted Chaser Dragonflies that caught the eye.  After a while we saw the continually active Emperor Dragonfly, male and female flying together at one point.  I was unable to catch an image in flight, but did eventually find a female ovipositing and managed a rather distant image, which I do think shows the size of wings to good effect.  As Sam said at the time, I’m pleased that these dragonflies are not two feet long.  It is believed that prehistoric Dragonflies had wingspans of well over two footDamselflies were there in great number and included Azure, Common Blue, Blue-tailed and Large Red Damselflies.

Four spotted Chaser Dragonfly

Azure Damselfly

Emperor Dragonfly ovipositing.

Having seen the Speckled Wood Butterflies as we approached the area, other butterflies recorded were Common Blue, Small Tortoiseshell, Peacock, Red Admiral and Meadow Brown.  A Cinnamon Moth lifted as we approached.

Common Blue Butterfly

We found a Great Crested Newt, but sadly a dead one.


I tell you this newt isn't pissed, it is dead! 

There was much botanical interest, but it was the orchids that stole the show.  I cannot ever remember seeing such an abundance of Northern Marsh Orchids in such a small area.  They far outnumbered the Common Spotted Orchids and there were many fine specimens.  No doubt amongst them were some hybrids.

A naturalist at work

The stars of the days extraordinarily strong cast were the Bee Orchids.  I have certainly never seen Bee Orchids in such number.  Sam’s initial count of spikes was 17, later updated to 28.   I pondered over these exotic, and so finely adapted orchids and how the flowers have evolved to look like bees, and had similar thoughts as I had had when a few days earlier had considered the plate structure of the Fulmar’s bill.  By strange twist of fate, The Bee Orchid is rarely pollinated by Bees, as it simply relies upon slight breezes to blow the hanging pollinia onto the sticky stigma which leads to self-pollination.   One can understand why so many plant hunters who have travelled the world in search of rare orchids, have on occasion become completely obsessed by them.  Such interesting and often beautiful plants, the orchids form probably the largest flowering plant family.



Bee Orchid

I left feeling, as I usually do, having been out in the field, that I am a half glass full man.  It is best to remain positive as to what wonderful habitat, flora and fauna can still be found close to home, this despite the attempts of those in power to allow building on every patch of green land available.  I have restricted myself to mentioning the orchids only on this occasion despite other interesting flora in the area.

Bee Orchid

A quick visit to Arcot Pond provided the call of Lesser Whitethroat, but little else.  Having enjoyed visits to this area in years gone by, I was rather disappointed on this occasion.

Black tailed Skimmer Dragonflies in tandem.  Kibblesworth, as are following images.

Four spotted Chaser Dragonfly on Yellow Flag Iris.

Four spotted Chaser Dragonfly

A few days later we spent a short time south of the river at Kibblesworth Ponds where again we found grassland and pools providing a good array of plants, insects and birdsong.  I have added a few more images by way of a bonus.

Scorpion Fly Pamorphidae

Common Blue Butterfly finding nutrient in the mud.

Five spot Burnet Moth

Small Heath Butterfly




 


Monday, 21 June 2021

Evening Coastal Nature Walk

Trips far afield are not necessary to enjoy nature, and this evening’s meander around the area of Hartley and surrounds is proof of that.  On reflection I feel had I the need to introduce an individual to the rewards of showing an interest in Natural History, this evening would have been a perfect beginning.  There was just sufficient entomological, mammalian, avian and botanical interest so as not to blow the mind with numbers and confusion, yet sufficient to allow real interest, excitement, and time to watch, study and take in the surrounding flora and fauna in a relaxing manner.  Very often less is more when it comes to studying nature.  The North Sea appeared flat and still, the air pellucid, the temperature controlled by cooling sea air, and there was a feeling of peace and calm.

Fulmars

We initially walked a little way north to see the Fulmars and ended up spending a relaxing time in the company of these wonderfully evolved long distance travelling seabirds.  They obviously felt very safe on the cliff and were not at all phased by our proximity.  As well as the birds close by us on the cliff we watched as numbers of other Fulmars flew on straight and stiff wings above the edge of the cliff.  The pinkness of the Thrift was already fading, but it still formed a carpet in places forward of a background of rock, sea and sky.

On the way to the Fulmar site a pair of mating Seven Spot Ladybirds, a Soldier Beetle and a large patch of I think Common Fumitory had been found.  As we turned to walk southwards a Carpet Moth, that give no sign of moving, was an ideal subject for photography.  The colour of the ladybirds was striking and of course a warning to possible predators of the poisons these insects contain.  The ladybirds can release foul tasting fluids from their legs.  A voracious eater of aphids, this species of Ladybird, our most common, has been imported on occasions into the USA to act as on insectivore on valuable crops.  Each wing casing, the elytra, has three spots and another spot which overlaps both casings.  This is one of the larger ladybirds and it can travel 1,000 metres in search of food and suitable habitat.  It may surprise some folk that there are 47 different species of Ladybird in the UK and Ireland.

Mating Seven Spot Ladybirds

Soldier Beetle

Silver-ground Carpet Moth

I remembered that whilst living his latter years in an asylum John Clare wrote many poems including (not one of his best) Clock-a-Clay, an alternative name for Ladybird.  This stems from an old Northamptonshire belief that you can tell time from the number of taps on the ground it takes to make a ladybird flyaway.

As we checked out plants along the cliff and grassland we also watched seven Bottled Nosed Dolphins  on the flat calm sea as they travelled north in two groupings.  The conditions were ideal for watching, and this was one of the highlights of the evening.  Birds were never forgotten and perhaps the finest bird sighting of the evening was three Manx Shearwaters skirting the water as they flew south.  Other seabirds seen included small flocks of calling Oystercatcher, Gannets, Kittiwakes, Puffins, Guillemots, Common Scoter and a raft of Eider Ducks.

I never tire of the view towards St Mary’s Island and this evening showed it at its best, with the lighthouse reflected across the water and large ships in the background making towards the entrance of the River Tyne.

As we passed by one of the mounds we bumped into Ray, who it turned out was not only a regular reader of this blog but also, almost a neighbour of mine, living on the same estate.  Having had a long chat, we said our farewells and I said I would give him a mention and so I keep my word.  As we chatted we watched a Common Whitethroat displaying, and later found out the pair had young and we eventually saw the entire family.  This pair was of one of two or three in the immediate area.  Reed Bunting, Skylark and Meadow Pipit were among other species seen and heard.   

By now the evening atmosphere was one of tranquillity and stillness which clearly encourage a buck and doe Roe Deer to feel relaxed out in the exposed field.  Both seemed in peak condition which was reflected in the condition of their colourful coat.  By the way the buck was scent tasting and approaching a none too keen doe, it appeared that the doe was in heat.  It is not often one can watch Roe Deer so well.  We agreed whilst watching these small deer that there is a tendency to imagine them larger than in fact they are.

Common (??) Fumitory

Three plants that in particular caught the attention were Common Fumitory (or was it Common-ramping Fumitory), White Campion and Sea Plantain.  The former plant took my interest because I had recently wondered why I had never seen fumitories.  The latter plant, and plantains in general, are easy to pass by, but I do find them incredibly attractive plants.  Sea Plantain is adapted to stand up to harsh coastal conditions and can survive short periods under water.  The taproot extends deep into the ground acting as an anchor and the narrow slightly waxy leaves can survive the constant sea spray.  The White Campion's  calyx is formed by fused sepals.

Sea Plantain

White Campion

As we made off towards home, the calm evening was still warm and bright.  The journey was broken by a stop to listen for Quail.  None were heard on this occasion, but what a wonderful evening it had been.