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Saturday, 21 April 2012

Northumberland Rocks!! - 12th to 15th April, 2012

My wife and I had an invitation to join friends Russ and Carole in Northumberland for a weekend of celebrations to mark their 25th Wedding Anniversary. Russ is an old friend of 48 years standing, and Northumberland is probably my favourite English county, so it was an easy decision!

Thursday 12th April

We were late setting off as we had to wait until mid-afternoon for some results to come in from the vet. It was, therefore, about 18.00 before we got to our B&B in Beadnell, in the north of Northumberland. As our B&B was only five minutes from the north beach, we set off there as soon as we'd sorted ourselves out. 

The tide was coming in (at about mid-tide), and there were some waders on the rocks (not the Northumberland Rocks of the title to this post) and along the shoreline, and a group of about a dozen Eider was on the water. I was busy trying to get some photos of the Turnstones, whilst my wife was further up the beach. 

Turnstone - Beadnell
It had been sunny at the beach/water interface for about five minutes when we first arrived, but then the beach was in full shade. My wife found a bread wrapper full of bread on the beach - a full loaves-worth, but mixed brown and white. She was concerned about the polythene bag that it was in and so I broke up the bread and started casting it on the beach, so that she could put the bag in her pocket, out of harm's way. I was expecting to be inundated by gulls. I didn't expect the Eider to suddenly home in on me, keeping the gulls at bay !!

My problem in taking photos was getting far enough away from them - even with the zoom wound back to 150mm.

Eider (drake) - Beadnell

Eider (female) - Beadnell
The Eider had their fill, and then left a few meagre scraps for the waiting gulls. Meanwhile, I'd been trying to get some images of the small flock of Sanderling. This was not easy as the light levels were low, and they are never still! I did get a few passable ((at least I think so!) images, but not as good as I would have liked.

Sanderling - Beadnell
By the time I turned my attention to a Redshank the light was almost gone and the tide was coming in. I managed to salvage one shot and then it was time to head up to the Craster Arms for a meal and a few pints of Old Rosie.

Redshank - Beadnell
Friday 13th April

Undaunted by the portents of the date, we set off for a walk along Beadnell's south beach. This stretches for about 2 miles (3km) and the sand is only broken by the entry of the Long Nanny stream. The south side of the stream is occupied by nesting terns in the summer, including Little Tern, but although some terns were in evidence, none were on the beach. Shortly after leaving the village, my wife had a dizzy spell and so, having checked that she was going to be OK I set off southwards along the beach, more looking at the dunes behind the beach than out to sea, as there seemed to be relatively little out there. 

A male Kestrel was hunting the dunes, and I could see two more further down. In the dunes were Linnet and Meadow Pipit. I noticed something on a fence wire that was not the expected pipit - a Stonechat, but I was not near enough for a decent image.

Stonechat - Beadnell Beach
Further south I started to try for images of the pipits, and this was far from easy as they were very active and not at all confiding. At one point I had a pair quite close for a split second but they disappeared behind a dune (as did the fence that they were favouring). I stealthily climbed up the dune and found the fence - and a male Kestrel on a post, making a meal of a lizard! I've never been this close to a Kestrel 'in the wild' before, and I was amazed that it did not spot me and beat a hasty retreat. It just carried on eating (even when I adjusted my position a little) until the lizard was down its throat, then lazily looked at me, opened its mouth at me as if in protest, and then looked away again. It eventually flew, but I was too close to manage the flight shot. It's a pity that the light was in the wrong direction here as I might have got some of my best ever Kestrel images. I'm pretty pleased with what I did get, however, so please forgive me if I indulge myself with images of this bird.

Kestrel (male) - Beadnell Beach
After the Kestrel departed, I caught up with a pair of Meadow Pipits, but only at a distance.

Meadow Pipit - Beadnell Beach
It was time to go back and check on my wife, and I found she'd fully recovered and had been watching the terns out in the bay.

As nothing was planned until mid-afternoon, we returned along the beach, past the harbour and then out onto the spit that's known as Ebb's Neuk, where remains of a 13th Century chapel have been found (now covered over again). Passing seabirds, and a couple of seals were spotted before we headed along the north sea-wall. We saw a number of waders, but only Black-tailed Godwit and Ringed Plover were photographed.

Black-tailed Godwit - Beadnell
Ringed Plover - Beadnell
We left ourselves time for a lunch at the Craster Arms, accompanied by a very frugal measure of Old Rosie - well I didn't want to cause any embarrassment in the church afterwards when Russ and Carole would be renewing their vows!

I'm not a churchgoer, and I'm not sure what I was expecting, but the friendly and relaxed service was something of a surprise, with the lady vicar making witty quips, Carole playing the organ, and Russ playing guitar. The hymns threw us a bit, but when we looked at the preface in the hymn book all was explained when it stated that more than 90% of the hymns contained did not appear in the usual two common hymn books.

After the service we all repaired to the nearby Beadnell Towers Hotel for some liquid refreshment and a chat, and later the remarkable cake, an excellent representation of a Fender Stratocaster, was cut - and sampled!

There was time after this get-together for another walk along the north beach - tide well out - before meeting up with some of the guests for dinner at the hotel. The Eider were back in the water, but photographable, and the Oystercatchers were quite active on the rocks (no not those rocks!).

Eider - Beadnell
Eider (female) - Beadnell

Eider (drake) - Beadnell
Oystercatcher - Beadnell
After a good dinner at the hotel, it was off to the Craster Arms again where many of the guests at Russ and Carole's 'do' had congregated and there was live music, and a drop more Old Rosie.  Thus ended a really enjoyable day!

Saturday 14th April

We'd got all day to play with before Russ and Carole's party in the evening, so my wife and I set off for Lindisfarne (aka Holy Island). We took the coast road, stopping just north of Seahouses where there was a pond with a Redshank at the water's edge.

Redshank - north of Seahouses
We then continued towards Lindisfarne, arriving a little early for the tide to lower enough to allow us to cross the causeway - the published table said 12.00, but we crossed at 11.40. 

First call was at Oswald's for lunch before the crowds arrived, we then set off for a walk past the castle. There were plenty of birds around, but all at a very great distance, and nothing unusual was spotted as I'd not got a scope with me, and no usable photos of birds were taken. 

By the shoreline, past the castle, was a large area of grass on which people had painstakingly formed piles of stones. It looked amazing as you approached, and some of the piles had been very skillfully created. However, when one looked closer some of the more simple arrangements had been created with a real artistic flair. No these aren't the rocks either.

Stones on Lindisfarne
After our walk past the castle we headed back into the village to buy an ice-cream at the Post Office. On a previous visit we'd been really taken with Doddington's Alnwick Rum ice-cream. Woe is me - they'd stopped selling it!! We had to make do with a substitute, which we enjoyed while sitting in the nearby gardens.

Heading back to the car, I suddenly spotted an owl on the lawn outside Oswald's (our lunch stop). It wasn't your usual sort of owl! Since we'd been gone, a local Birds of Prey Centre had set up a small display. I've mixed feelings about such establishments, but it does enable you to see some fabulous birds at much closer quarters than you would in the wild. This particular establishment specialises in rescuing birds from cruel and neglectful owners and, indeed, all four birds on display were rescued birds. The owl that I'd first spotted was an amazing White-faced Scops Owl, a native of sub-Sahara Africa. The others were a female Peregrine Falcon, a female Kestrel, and a male Harris Hawk (the latter was kept in the background as it was not yet used to being in public).

White-faced Scops Owl

Peregrine Falcon (female)
Kestrel (female)
Having spent some time with these birds, we set off back across the causeway, stopping for a while in the middle to check out the birds. Only a pair of Shelduck provided any usable images.

Shelduck (female and drake) - Lindisfarne causeway
That night we were at Russ and Carole's party. They'd got a large marquee set up in the garden, complete with stage and sound mixer desk. Apart from the excellent spread that Carole had prepared, we were entertained to some great music, ranging from bagpipes to rock, from a whole raft of musicians, including a significant part of 'The Leisure Society', one of whom just happens to be Carole's son (if you don't know of The Leisure Society, look them up on t'interweb).

I'd been warned that I'd been asked to do my bit, and I was a bit nervous in the face of such talented musicians, particularly as it'd been five years since I'd packed up my band, and I hadn't played since then. In the event, it was great fun to be back playing with Russ, and I think that I got away with it - just!! This was our band way back in 1965 (Russ on the left, and me on the ground to the right).

Fingal's Friends - 1965
And this was us (christened Half Fingal by Russ) last Saturday - I did vocals and harmonica on Hoochie Coochie Man, and Jenny Jenny/Keep a'Knockin'.

Half Fingal - 2012
We'd had a brilliant weekend, in a marvellous corner of England, culminating in a great evening - Yeah - Northumberland Rocks!!! A big Thank You to Russ and Carole for inviting us to share in your great occasion. Here's to your next twenty-five years!!

Sunday 15th April

For reasons which don't need explaining we had a bit of a slow start on the day, setting off homeward at about 10.30. Rather than thrash down the A1, M18, and M1, we took the gentle route by cutting inland and heading down along the Pennines, on minor (often single-track) roads. The scenery is stunning on this route and, in spite of falling snow before we set out, and sleet in the vicinity of Hadrian's Wall, we had bright sunshine for most of the journey.

We stopped just before the ford by Arkengarthdale as there were quite a few birds around, including Wheatear.

Wheatear (male) - Arkengarthdale
Lapwing - Arkengarthdale

Red Grouse - Arkengarthdale
The last two images above are of the same bird - notice how the red 'eyebrow' is raised more prominently in the upper of the two images.

Further on in our journey we had another stop on Whitaside Moor for a more confiding Red Grouse - I thought that the bird looked quite comical in this image - and very inviting as a source of lunch!

Red Grouse - Whitaside Moor
At about 16.30 we realised that we were only about halfway home, and so cut over to the A1 by Bedale - end of the enjoyment!

Thank you for getting this far with this rather long post. I expect that the next post will be very much shorter!


  1. Hi Richard

    Wow - that was a mammoth of a post, varied and enjoyable. The Kestrel images are excellent and it's a real, and quite uncommon, thrill to get that close. Looking good in the 60's (and these days of course) band there Richard.

    1. Thank you Christian. It took a long time to write the post, but nothing like the time it took to process the approximately 900 frames that I shot up there!

  2. Excellent post mate, a most enjoyable read. Some of the images are stunning and as Christian commented the Kestrel ones are brilliant!

    1. Thank you Paul, for your kind words. Glad you enjoyed it!!

  3. A great set pictures here again!
    I agree with your mixed feeling about bird display but in this case it seems OK!
    I went to see birds of prey in similar circumstances and they seem in great shape!
    I believe it is important for people who have the knowledge to help save rare birds and even breed them in captivity, otherwise our future generation will not be able to enjoy them!
    And this is was our goal with our parrots...
    The White-faced Scops Owl is exquisite and I wouldn't mind entering one! :)
    I had the chance to see closely a Harris hawk, probably escaped... I managed good shots!!
    Well a last word about the Grouse! How lucky one can get?!!
    Bye for now!

  4. Thank you Noushka. Ive had a look at your Parrot pages - seems like you did a great job with these birds.

    1. Gee!
      I can see I made typing mistakes!
      I meant "encountering one"!


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