Thursday, 15 September 2022

Remembering in my Own Way.

 It’s no coincidence that my blog page features a design of books.  As well as having a great love of nature, like many with similar interests I am a bibliophile.  I have learned over the years to be particular as to what to add to my library and I have two books of which I am very proud to own, both by James Alder.  They are the Birds and Flowers of the Castle of Mey and the Birds of Balmoral. The  former was presented to the Queen Mother and the latter to Her Majesty the Queen.  Whether you are of a left, right or centre political persuasion I think you would be hard indeed not to have found the death of Her Majesty the Queen a sad occasion.  I had my copy of the birds of Balmoral out on the table this week.

Her Majesty previews the artwork

Both books contain some wonderful prints of birds and flowers by James Alder.  There are short introductions in both books and this includes in Birds of Balmoral words from the Queen to James about the conservation work done on the estate of Balmoral of which Prince Phillip had taken a great interest.  The Queen did acknowledge that historically some wildlife was not encouraged on the estate, and of course we all know what that meant.  Let us hope that the numerous gamekeepers on the estate are rather more tolerant these days.

From Court Circular in The Times, June 1998

Anyway, I share one thing in common with royalty, I have both books by James Alder on my shelves.


Whilst I collect books I never kept up a childhood hobby of collecting postage stamps.
  On refection I wish I had kept it going, as philately is such a great tool of learning.  I’d been thinking just how much the world has changed during my lifetime lived with Queen Elizabeth being the only monarch I have known.  Many of the political and geographical changes to the world are reflected in my small postage stamp book passed to me as a child by my elder brother.  Who would believe these days that in the 1950s you could purchase a stamp for a halfpenny in ‘old money?’



I’ve included a selection of images of postage stamps which have a natural history theme and which were issued, as were many others, during the reign of Queen Elizabeth 11.



I’ll try and not be such a stranger to my blog.









Saturday, 2 April 2022

Spring Returns

 Sitting here typing with the heating once again turned up and snow on the ground outside of the window, the spring heatwave of last week’s seems a distant pleasure, but spring is here and we made the most of it last week.  The botanical interest was from various hues of yellow which were very much a reflection of sun filled skies.  Tall, cultivated Daffodils were very where, Coltsfoot formed a colourful blanket at Castle Island, Lesser Celandines shone like mini suns from the low grasses, Primroses were beginning to show opening flower buds under tree cover and best of all was the dense yellow flowering Gorse at Druridge Pools.  The air held numbers of Small Tortoiseshell Butterflies and the occasional Peacock Butterfly.  The sea was a calm mass of marine blue until hidden by the North Sea mist.

Courtesy of Samuel Hood

A calling Chiffchaff greeted us at Castle Island and we were soon watching three Little Egrets from the riverbank a species which will always excite me no matter how common they become in the area.  Lesser Black Backed Gulls were amongst the gull flock.  Certain gulls appeal to me and the Lesser Black Backed is one of them.  Grey Heron and Teal were among other birds seen here before we moved onto Cresswell Pond.

Before we reached the pond we enjoyed the sight of numerous calling Tree Sparrows.  The pond itself disappointed with the water being extremely high once again, a constant problem over the years.  We did manage to find three Avocet here and picked up Twite at the north end of the pond of which we had better sighting on moving north.  There was no sign of Wheatears.  We thought we might be entertained when a family of four found the crossing covered in water.  Child number two took off his shoes and walked across without falling in which was a disappointment, whilst for some reason child number one ran at the sheep (at least some of them carrying lambs) and chased them away, after which mam and dad followed and walked through the field.  I suppose spring heat brings everyone out!  Skylarks were singing overhead and Stonechats were seen.

Next stop was for a nice lunch in a busy Dinnington pub.  Sadly, my first Barn Owl of the year was a dead one on the roadside, feathers everywhere.  A similar plight of many Barn Owls, I know.

Distant Lapwing

Druridge Pools provided four Ruff and Common Snipe among the other species which included numbers of Shoveler and Shelduck.  I regretted not taking the camera to the viewing platform as the Ruff were close up.  I went off for the camera and on returning the Ruff had moved having been disturbed by the noise of trail bikes.  Having reached the other hide, we found five other folks in it.  I can’t remember finding so many individuals in this particular hide.  We knew a Water Pipit had been recorded here but did not immediately sight one.  I got my eye on a bird on the edge of the water and quietly asked Sam who had the scope  if it was just a pipit i.e., a Meadow Pipit.  Before he had time to look and respond voices from both sides of the hide informed me ‘It’s a Water Pipit’.  The tone suggested that I ought to have known.  I’ve just finished reading Tim Birkhead’s new book Birds and Us in which he mentions Mark Cocker’s hierarchy of birding types.  I think the folk in the hide had me marked down as either a Dude or Robin Stroker of which I am neither.    I do think this bird today was the most obvious one I have seen in Britain as it was beginning to change into summer plumage.  I have only ever seen one in full summer plumage and that was in the Transylvanian Mountains in Romania many years ago which I admit at the time I had put down as a LBJ.  With hindsight I wish I had taken more notice of it at the time.

Distant Ruff

We looked over the sea from the dunes and Sam counted 46 Red Throated Divers.  They were accompanied by Common Scoter, Eider Ducks, Razorbill and Guillemot.  Sea mist was over the North Sea not too distant.  East Chevington proved to be very quiet but we did find a single Pink footed Goose in a small group of Greylag Geese.  Our last stop was at Dinnington pool.  We knew right away from the number of cars and photographers that we might be in luck with Short Eared Owls and it wasn’t long before Sam picked them up hunting in the distance accompanied by Common Buzzard.  It wasn’t long before we had a close up Short Eared Owl fly by.  A pair of Carrion Crows copulated in the tree behind us.

Druridge Pool courtesy Samuel Hood

Overall, a good day with the Water Pipit and Short Eared Owls being birds of the day, with at least 66 species on the day list.  Today the snow, hail and cold continues.  Nowt like a good spring weather to cheer one up!

Druridge Dunes courtesy Samuel Hood

Incidentally, Tim Birkhead’s book is well worth a read.  Tim is an academic who can write informatively and interestingly for the general reader and he is certainly one of my favourite authors of ornithological writings.     

Wednesday, 16 February 2022

Teesdale. May the Force be With You

 We were not going to get a better weather forecast this week so Sam and I opted to visit Teesdale and we were initially rewarded with a blinding winter sun and stunning land and Skyscapes as we travelled through Weardale and onwards to Teesdale.  I had recently benefitted from a reading the Durham Wildlife Trust’s book The Natural History of Upper Weardale so I took special interest in places we passed through such as Stanhope, East and West Gate, Frosterly and St John’s Chapel.  The sun ensured that our outward drive was rewarded with a sharpness of light and clarity.  The higher ground is really stunning which made p for a lack of wildlife in this Red Grouse area.  In any event we knew this was not the time to visit the area to gain the most of bird and botanical interest but there were to be some highlights.

Red-flanked Bluetail

Before we hit Weardale we sighted a Common Buzzard but found only one short sighting of a Red Grouse, this species apparently hunkered down out of the strong, and as we were to find out icy cold wind.  I was extremely comfortable in Sam’s heated seats and so when we arrived at Langdon Beck to look for Black Grouse the wind chilled me to the bone.  There were no Black Grouse to be seen, only four Pheasant in the lower fields, so we continued to the area of Bowlees in hopes of finding the long staying vagrant Red-flanked Bluetail.  This bird should be wintering in S E Asia, but clearly likes it here as it has been around for some time now.  We found the area that the bird has often been seen in among the Beeches but we had no luck until Sam scampered down to the lower pathway.  He quickly waved to me to say he had found it and I followed more slowly.  So, we had good sightings of the Red-flanked Bluetail that spent all the time at ground level, and were able to put one or two other birders onto it.  We had previously seen this species only once before in Britain and that was on Lindisfarne a year or two ago.  The sighting we really remember however is of this bird in breeding plumage in the forests of Finland.  One of our top ever sightings.  If you don’t know what this bird is like in breeding plumage it might be worth looking at an image on the internet.

Red-flanked Bluetail

We enjoyed a wander along the woodland paths and had sightings of Wren, Robin, Treeceeper, Nuthatch, Great Spotted Woodpecker, Great Tit, Coal Tit, Blue Tit, Long tailed Tit, Siskin, Chaffinch and Brambling.  The male Brambling being a highlight.

Low Force

We then made for Low Force a series of waterfalls which tumble over the dolerite of the Whin Sill an intrusion which formed 295 million years ago.  This is a stunningly beautiful area, but potentially very dangerous.  We approached over the Wynch Bridge.  The first bridge at this sight was built in 1704 and is thought to have been the first suspension bridge in Europe.  This first bridge collapsed but was replaced, and users included the local miners.

Sam at Low Force

Standing beside this waterfall you soon appreciate the force of the water and the power of nature.  The sun was occasionally behind cloud but when the cloud passed by the sunlight hit the river and air bubbles causing a sparkling gem like effect and a rainbow by the falls.

Gem Pool

We couldn’t visit Low Force without taking a walk to High Force also.  By the way, the name force is derived from the Nordic word foss meaning waterfall.  High Force is not by any means the highest waterfall in England but it is perhaps the most dramatic and has the largest volume of water in a single drop.  The geology here is fascinating and clearly seen with the Whinsill dolerite at the top, softer sandstone in the centre and limestone at the bottom.  The actual gorge was mainly formed by the meltwaters of the last ice age.  Even at this time of year there was several visitors, but not enough to spoil the atmosphere and what is an exciting experience with nature.  Junipers were growing along the top of the far bank and small lone Scots Pine was surviving on the rock face of the force seemingly well dug into a crack along the rock.

High Force

High Force

I had really enjoyed my walk to the force, taking note of the geology, ferns and other plant life beginning to show as we began to hear the flow of the force and eventually catching sight of it.  We spent a bit of time at the foot of the falls before making our way back up steep steps and upwards on onwards.  The return walk I did not enjoy, being cream crackered and breathless.  As Sam suggested, it’s an age thing!

High Force

By the time we were back to the car it was time to make back home.  We decided to return via Langdon Beck.  That proved to be a wise decision as on stopping we found Black Grouse at lek.  We got the scope out and initially counted fifteen Blackcock before noting two Greyhens flying away from the leking ground and landing in the distance.  Another Blackcock flew in taking the number of males up to 16.  We watched a little action as pairs of the males faced up to one another before the cold defeated us and we returned to the car and heated seats.

We left the area as grey leaden cloud appeared to set in for the rest of the day, but it wasn’t long before we were in sunshine again.  This time the light was much softer giving the whole area a rather fresh look of soft pastel colouration.

It had been an excellent day and we certainly had the best of the weather despite the bitter wind at times.  It was good to see the Red-flanked Blue Tail but for me the stars of the day were the Black Grouse, birds so evocative of this area and wild places in general.  Brambling joins these two birds to form my top three species of the day.  On the journey home we saw a large flock of Fieldfare and a large flock of Starlings plus two Kestrels.   After an hour or so rest we had fish and chips for tea.  Top day, and as Sam said at the time, one with a Nordic feel to it.  Today I’m writing and resting.

 

 

 

Friday, 4 February 2022

Sights and Sounds. S E Northumberland.

 We made off towards Druridge Bay on what was a cloudy, cold and in places windy day (despite the reports of a warm day).  We picked up Kestrel at the side of the road from the A19.  But before reporting on sightings and sounds of the day I will include a couple more images from the patch as we took no photos today.

Oystercatcher in town.

Orange and Harlequin Ladybirds.  Numbers keep changing so they clearly are on the move during hibernation.

This was my first venture off patch this year and our first stop was at Castle Island.  Birds seen here included Little Egret, Redshank, Curlew, Mallard, Wigeon and Teal.   The sound of Jays alerted us to their presence before hearing and tracking down five Greenfinch which flew overhead. Such was the pleasure of finding the rapidly declining Greenfinch species, we got the scope onto them when they perched in the trees.  Any naturalist worthy of the title will be aware of the importance of noting sounds.  I always struggle to remember the name of the disease that has wiped out so many Greenfinches.  The bloke we spoke to just called it the pox so maybe I just need to stick to that, although to me it has connotations of something entirely different.  Maybe that is just me regressing to thoughts of schoolboy banter.   Our next stop of only a few minutes was at the QE11 Park where we saw noting of great note which was not the case at our next stop.

Widdrington pool delivered some good sightings once again with the likes of Smew, Goldeneye, Slavonian Grebe, Red Necked Grebe, Red Breasted Merganser, Marsh Harrier and Common Buzzard.  Sound once again alerted us to Siskin and Coal Tit.  The cold chill contrasted to the warmth we had found here on a previous visit.

We arrived at Cresswell Pond to note that the water was very high and to be told by a bloke leaving that there was nowt about but Wigeon.  I have to say that I would rather not be told this and be allowed to find out myself that there is nowt about.  In truth there was not much about apart from many Wigeon, their whistling soon heard.  In fact, with the cold, wind and high water levels and broken-down hedges the area was quite bleak.  We did find Stonechat on the wire, but the hedges down to the hide were very quiet with only Blue Tit, Great Tit and Dunnock seen here.  A Skylark flew over.  There was no sign of the usual Tree Sparrows.  The farm buildings had taken a battering in the gales too.  The high water level ensured there was no mud bank for the waders but we did see numbers of Oystercatchers and Curlew.  There was little on the water other than the Wigeon and most of there number were on the banks.  There was a single Greylag Goose, but numbers of Pink footed Geese in the field to the north of the pond.  The dunes at different times provided separate flocks of Chaffinch, Linnet and Goldfinch.  We checked the flocks but found nothing else amongst them.

It was time for lunch before we visited Druridge Pools.  The pot of tea warmed me up nicely before we set off again.

Druridge Pools provided sightings of yet more numerous Wigeon, along with Teal, Shoveler, Pintail, Moorhen, Coot, Curlew, Grey Heron and three very nice Ruff amongst a larger number of Redshank.  Once back on the road and out of the cold wind we experienced some rare moments of complete silence.  There were very few folks about and that is a rare thing in Northumberland even on a dull winter’s day these days.  A lone silent Reed Bunting was seen to fly into the bush at the side of the road.  On the road to East Chevington two Red Legged Partridge walked across the road in front of us.

On arrival at East Chevington we heard and watched Long Tailed Tits in the hedges.  Same noted a change in their calls and called Sparrowhawk before we saw a female Sparrowhawk fly above the hedge and across the field.  More of winters sounds, and the one I most associate with winter was provided by several skeins of Pink-footed Geese making varying shapes above us.  Then we got our eye on what we thought was a dead sheep but it proved still to be alive but unable to rise from its side.  Sam alerted the NWT who said they would get an appropriate person out.  The North Pool was quiet but held numbers of Goldeneye, Gadwall another Greylag Goose and other species. 

Before we set off towards the burn Sam noticed another sheep in distress, stuck firmly in the wire fencing.  Sam tried to shift it, but it looked as though it would need wire cutters so he made another call to the NWT.  Our walk to the burn was quiet and on arrival we found the tide high.  In the distance we had seen five Common Buzzards flying together over the woodland.  Two or three Sanderling and similar number of Ringed Plover were seen at the tide edge.  The light was beginning to wane now and we stood, relaxed, and listened to the tide hitting the shore.  There are not many better sounds.  As we left to return to the car swans were seen in the far distance.  By their stance I thought they were Whooper Swans and once we had the scope on them we found that was what they were.  Another Stonechat was seen and just before we got back to the car another Kestrel was seen and the call of Grey Partridges was heard.  We eventually picked out at least four Grey Partridges moving across the field.

It had been a cold but excellent day with sixty-seven bird species seen, twenty-eight of them new for my year list which makes it feel a little more respectable.  So infrequently do I see Greenfinch these days I put them up there with the better birds of the day.

As we left there was no sign of anyone coming to deal with the sheep.  I do hope our alerting the NWT was not in vain.

 

Tuesday, 1 February 2022

January on Patch

 I’ve not left the patch to seek birds and nature throughout January, and I think my mind has benefitted from a return to basics and the enjoyment of nature on my doorstep.  I’m mindful that my interests in nature began on patch many years ago, so it has felt like a return to those years and I have had much enjoyment from the short and on occasions longer walks which helped to shake off the cobwebs and clear the mind.  I’m hoping that I still have readers of the blog who I know enjoyed the focus upon patch wanderings.

1st Year Winter Scaup

Has January ever provided so many clear blue skies and sun during the years of my watching?  I think not.  It was only the gales of the later days of the month that blighted the month and took numerous trees down across the area, some of them of good age.  Possibly because of such fine weather the bird numbers have in general been low across the patch.  Of course, birdlife present around the area has changed over the years.  I’ve yet to see a Greenfinch this year, so badly effected by disease over the years and I was doubting that I was going to see a Coal Tit until one returned to my garden on the 30th.  The lake too has been noticeably quiet with the Goosanders leaving early, probably enticed to their breeding sites.  The fact that the lake has been affected by the Avian Flu taking a toll on the Mute Swans and we think Canada Geese has been depressing.  I know many other areas of Northumberland have been affected to a lesser or greater degree.  The Gadwall which have begun to frequent the lake in recent years have also left and I have seen no sign of Shovelers.  It was the lake that Sam and I visited during the later days of the month to find the Scaup.

1st Year Winter Scaup

The first winter Scaup provided exceptionally good photo opportunities for us and many other photographers.  It is an interesting bird just beginning to come into summer plumage so we are hoping it may hang around for a while so that we can watch the plumage developing.  Already more noticeable over a couple of days is the vermiculation on the back of the bird.  The greater size of this bird compared to Tufted Duck is very noticeable when the two are seen close by one another.  No doubt a life at sea and feeding habits for the Scaup has played some part in the evolutionary development.

Displaying Goldeneye

Goldeneye

Goldeneye

We took the opportunity to photograph other waterfowl including the Goldeneye.  Finding a suitable angle was not always easy so bright was the sun.  The Oystercatcher feeding in the pools on the grass took our eye as did the much-underrated Jackdaws one of which is white winged and we believe has been around for years.

Togetherness.  Jackdaws are attractive birds.

Sam and I have watched and studied Great Crested Grebes on the lake for many years and we have given a presentation about them to several groups, and we are always available if required.
  We were glad to see that a pair have returned in the past couple of days, perhaps encouraged off the sea by the gale force winds.  Over recent years the Great Crested Grebes have taken to over wintering on the lake, only leaving for a brief period if the lake freezes over.  We noticed this winter they have not been about and can only think that calm seas and mild weather have encouraged them to stay on the sea.  They didn’t provide good opportunities for photographs today, but there’s plenty of time for that and the likelihood is that at least one more pair will turn up.

Pochard.  Good numbers on the lake.

The smaller lake held a pair of Little Grebes and the Grey Heron was back at its usual spot.  Sadly, one of the Canada Geese seemed to be down with Avian Flu.  Sam informed the appropriate agency but they won’t come out until the bird is actually dead.

Mute Swans

We’ve been taking note of the budding trees and the first signs of plants in leaf.  A Snowdrop was found almost in flower on the 1st.  An eye has also been kept of the hibernating Ladybird species.  One of the better sightings of the month was a sunlit male Sparrowhawk over the lake and our heads.  It eventually perched in the trees and disturbed the Goldfinches. 

I heard a Drumming Great Spotted Woodpecker quite early in the month and mid-way through the month watched male and female Mute Swans carefully gathering nesting material by pulling out one by one reeds that had been flattened to the ground.  In recent years and since the reduction in numbers of the swans on the lake, at least one pair have produced cygnets.  I was chatting to a chap at the lake and he was keen on watching bird behaviour and felt that was the element of birding he enjoyed most.  I couldn’t agree more that that is where the fascination lies.  Forget lists and listing and simply watch!

I’m hoping to widen my travels soon.

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