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Monday 30 July 2012

Northumberland in July

When my daughter suggested that my wife and I might like to join her and our granddaughter for a holiday in Northumberland, we immediately said yes. We both love Northumberland and, for me, the prospect of the girls amusing themselves doing 'girly' things whilst I went off birding had a certain appeal! We weren't so sure about the accommodation style suggested- a 'holiday park' (in other words a glorified caravan site) - but agreed on the basis that we used two adjacent static caravans so that my wife and I could have our own space from time to time. A destination of Berwick upon Tweed was settled on. We also agreed to go in two separate cars, so we had greater flexibility in what we did.

It all worked out very well, if not quite as expected, so please read on!

Friday 13th (!!!) July

Our check-in time wasn't until 16:00 so there was no pressure on us to leave home early.  Travelling independently from our daughter, and having stopped for a picnic lunch, we realised that we were likely to arrive about an hour early, so made a quick diversion to visit The Angel of The North near Gateshead, as my wife has always wanted to do so.

We still arrived five minutes early, but were allowed to check in without delay. Being pleasantly pleased by the caravan we were in, we did our unpacking and awaited our daughter who arrived an hour or so later. 

Our first priority was to make a quick visit to the beach which had direct access from the park by steps down the cliff side. Initial impressions were good - sand and rock pools for the girls and a few birds for me.

Next we went up to the main centre of the park, where impressions weren't so good - hundreds of slot machines designed to extract the maximum amount of cash from the hundreds of drones who were feeding them. My wife noticed that Bucks Fizz were performing that evening (although the line-up included only one of the originals), and wanted to go. I agreed to accompany her (I was going to need a few brownie points this holiday!). I'm pleased to say that my wife had had enough after three numbers!

Saturday 14th July

No images so far, but thank you for sticking with me!

After an early breakfast we had some time before setting off for Alnwick, where the castle doesn't open until 10:00. We used this time to re-visit the beach, and this time I had the camera with me. There were three ducks messing about in the bay which I initially identified at Red-breasted Merganser. It was only later, when looking at the photos, that I realised my mistake. I'm used to seeing R-b Merganser on the sea, and Goosander inland. These were all female Goosander!

Goosander (female) - Berwick upon Tweed

Just identifiable on a distant spit of rock were a couple of Guillemot and a Common Gull, a female Eider and a couple of Mute Swan were out on the water, and a Kittiwake flew past. Herring Gull were in numerous supply.

Whilst I scanned around, a couple of Curlew flew in and gave me distant views.

Curlew - Berwick upon Tweed

Before leaving the beach, I stopped to watch the House Martins that were collecting mud from the cliff face.

House Martin - Berwick upon Tweed
In Alnwick the girls were going to do the Harry Potter thing at the magnificent Alnwick Castle, whilst I visited the adjacent Alnwick Gardens. We parked near the castle and bought our tickets, whereupon I discovered that I'd got to walk back right through the town to get to the entrance to the gardens!

I was hoping to find birds in the gardens, but the gardens are relatively new and virtually devoid of birds, apart from a couple of dovecotes that contained white doves, which I subsequently found out were supplied by friends Russ and Carole in Beadnell! Of interest, however, was the 'Poison Garden' which is well fenced in, with fabulous ornamental gates, and visited via a guided walk. The guide was both informative, and extremely entertaining - thoroughly recommended!

entrance to the Poison Garden - the Alnwick Garden

In the doorway of 'the Hovel' where the Poison Garden guides are based, was a suitably amusing ornament!

in the doorway of 'the Hovel'  - the Alnwick Garden

I'd just found my way out of the maze, and was ready to leave the gardens when I had a call from the girls to say that they had just returned to the car for a picnic and would then be going back into the castle again as they still had a lot to do! I reached the car for my picnic just as the girls were finishing theirs.

Suitably refreshed, and having had one of the excellent Alnwick Rum Truffle ice-creams, I set off for the coast at Alnmouth. On the south side of the River Aln, just before it enters the sea, is an area where Terns congregate. I was way over on the north side of the estuary, and I'd only got binoculars with me, so could not check through these thoroughly, but they seemed to be mainly Common Tern, with a few Sandwich Tern thrown in.

Common and Sandwich Tern - Alnmouth

When looking at Birdguides that night, I discovered that a Roseate Tern had been seen here the previous day! I've looked long and hard at my images, but can't tell anything at that distance.

Sunday 15th July

Whilst the girls enjoyed the sunshine and miles of sand which is Beadnell Beach, I took a walk along the beach to the Long Nanny. My target was the Tern colony for which Beadnell Bay is famous. The Terns nest on the beach and in the dunes to the south of the Long Nanny (a river which divides the beach roughly in half. To visit the Terns you can either approach from the north, parking in the car park (toilets and refreshments) at Beadnell, and then take the mile or so walk along the beach to the Long Nanny (as I did), or you can approach from the south, parking at Newton Links car park, and then take the mile or so walk to the RSPB hut which gives you close views of some of the terns (and you can walk even further to reach a bridge over the long Nanny and then end up at the same place as I did).

From a previous visit I knew that if I sat on the sand at one point on the north bank of the Long Nanny there was a beach over the other side of the river where many Terns came to roost (rather than nest). and also where they came to bathe in the river.

Arctic Tern (juvenile) - Beadnell Long Nanny

Arctic Tern - Beadnell Long Nanny

Every so often, these birds would take to the sky in a 'cloud', and then return to the beach in front of me again,

Arctic Tern - Beadnell Long Nanny

mixed(?) Terns - Beadnell Long Nanny

The reason that the last caption says "mixed" is that the speciality of this area is Little Tern, and it seems that there are always a few here mixed in with the Arctic Terns. They're easy to spot sitting on the ground, but trying to pick them out in an image such as the last one, when all the birds are at a different distance isn't so easy, so there's probably one in that image somewhere!

Little Tern - Beadnell Long Nanny

This next image shows how diminutive these terns are when compared to Arctic Terns.

Arctic and Little Tern - Beadnell Long Nanny

I didn't manage many images of the Little Terns as there weren't many to chose from, and most of the results were very disappointing - not helped by the direction being straight into the strong sun, and the fact that I needed to keep at a safe distance as these are a protected species. However, I did manage my best yet of a Little Tern - pity it had to be a ringed one!

Little Tern - Beadnell Long Nanny

I spent some more time photographing the Arctic Terns (which occasionally ventured over to my side of the water), and trying to get some flight shots.

Arctic Tern - Beadnell Long Nanny

Arctic Tern (juvenile) - Beadnell Long Nanny
Terns weren't the only birds at the water's edge. There was a Dunlin, and a very similar bird, but with a spotted belly rather than a black one. It was only by reference to 'the book' that I realised that this was a juvenile Dunlin.

Dunlin - Beadnell Long Nanny

It was more easy for me to recognise the several juvenile Ringed Plover which were there with numerous adults.

Ringed Plover - Beadnell Long Nanny

Ringed Plover (juvenile) - Beadnell Long Nanny

That afternoon we paid a quick visit to Seahouses to check on boats to the Farne Islands, before returning to Beadnell to visit Russ and Carole.

Eider - Seahouses

That evening I took a few photos of the Herring Gulls that plagued our area of the park. I couldn't understand whey they favoured our area, with their feet sounding like thunder on the roof of our caravan. It was only on the penultimate day of the holiday that I found that our daughter and granddaughter, next door, had been feeding the blighters with bread on a daily basis!

Herring Gull - Berwick upon Tweed
Monday 16th July

The girls were to have a day with the pool and entertainments at the caravan park this day, whilst I went off to Seahouses to take a trip to the Farne Islands. This was, for me, the highlight of the holiday, and the content is such that it warrants a totally separate post on this blog - so you'll have to wait a few days!

Tuesday 17th July

As I'd had such a brilliant time on the Farnes, and as my daughter had never seen a Seal in the wild, the girls decided to take a non-landing boat trip round the Farnes. I felt that it was time to explore inland, and headed to Duns, just over the border into Scotland, with my target being the nature reserve there.

First, however, I intended to make a pilgrimage to the Jim Clark room in Duns. I arrived to find that it opened somewhat later in the day (more of that later), so decided to return after my walk on the reserve.

To cut a long story short, although this large reserve was a pleasant area, it was (at the time of my visit) sadly lacking in any visible wildlife, the most interesting things seen being a female Bullfinch,  and some Coots with very small chicks in attendance - both right at the start of the walk. In fact, my best photo was of the signpost directing one to Hen Poo - the large lake at the edge of the reserve! Yes, this is not a mistake - the name really is "Poo" and not "Pool"! 

signpost in Duns Nature Reserve
Noisy joggers and dog-walkers detracted from the tranquillity of the place and, to cap it all, following advice given by someone I'd met along the way, I ended up taking a false turning and walking three times as far as I intended. After a solid three hours of walking, carrying heavy kit in warm sunshine, I was crackered! It was with delight and exhaustion that I fell into the cool air of the Jim Clark room in Duns on my way back to the car.

The Jim Clark room is on the ground floor of a local amenity building in Duns. It is a small room crammed absolutely full of memorabilia connected with this legendary racing driver who hailed from these parts. I only spent 20 minutes here - I could have happily stayed longer, but I was in urgent need of some refreshment!

That afternoon I met up with the girls at Cocklawburn Beach, to the south of Berwick. They were about ready to leave as I arrived, and so I didn't have much time here. There was, however, an area that was absolutely covered in beautiful wild flowers, and this hosted a few butterflies and birds.

Common Blue - by Cocklawburn Beach
Meadow Pipit - by Cocklawburn Beach
Rook - by Cocklawburn Beach

Wednesday 18th July

My wife and I had a relaxing day this day, away from the kids, exploring inland in the Border Country. No birding was done, but we did visit the beach on our return in the late afternoon. Here a Mute Swan was riding the surf, but the real attraction was the Goosander flock - there were twelve of them (much more than I've ever seen together before)! I managed to get a record shot with all twelve of them in.

Goosander (x12) - Berwick upon Tweed

Thursday 19th July

This day we celebrated my wife's birthday with a lunch at the excellent Oswald's on Holy Island (Lindisfarne). Before lunch we had a walk beyond the castle so that the girls could play with stones on the beach. The amazing piles of stones, shown on my blog in my previous post on Northumberland earlier this year, had all gone!

The birds were not showing well. I took some photos of a Swallow on a blue (fibre optic?) cable which would have looked a bit more natural if the cable had been black.

Swallow - Holy Island
The tide was well out, and so the waders were very distant. However, I can just detect that, amongst the Redshank and Dunlin, the third wader from the left is different, and might be a Green Sandpiper?

mixed waders - Holy Island

After a superb lunch of a gigantic and excellent mixed seafood platter for three, followed by mini meringues with fruit and cream (somewhere the 'mini' bit got lost - these were about 6 inches (15 cm) across!) we had to depart before the tide came in and covered the causeway.

By now, the birding had come to an end. We had most of the afternoon and evening in the company of Russ and Carole in Beadnell, and the next day we headed for home, stopping for a great lunch in the Deli Bistro in Boston Spa on the way home. 

Please return when I post the Farne Island visit on this blog in a few days time. I assure you that the images are somewhat better than those on this post!

Wednesday 25 July 2012

Back From Northumberland - July, 2012

Hi Folks. Thought I'd better put something up here as I've not posted for a couple of weeks.. I've been away on a family holiday (self, wife, daughter, and granddaughter) to the north of Northumberland (based in Berwick-upon-Tweed). It's going to take a while to process the images, so here's some stuff from before I went.

We've had a juvenile Great Spotted Woodpecker visiting the garden several times a day and, thanks to our house-sitter who kept the feeders topped up, it's still with us now. Strangely, it's only once gone for the peanuts, and spends its time feeding on the fat balls. I've yet to set up to try and get some decent images (too much on elsewhere), but here are a couple taken through the conservatory window before we went away.

Great Spotted Woodpecker (juvenile) - our garden

I really ought to try and do better as, most years (if we're lucky), we only get a fleeting glimpse of a GSW.

Not so welcome in the garden are the Magpies. We're now getting up to five at a time. I've not paid much attention to them, but I think that four of them are well-advanced juveniles.

Magpie (juvenile?) - our garden
On the owl front, I had to go over to my Staffordshire supplier of bird food before we went away. On the way back I called in at my only Staffordshire Little Owl site. Only one bird was visible, at a great distance. I was hoping to see juveniles, as they had a good year last year.

Little Owl - my Site No.15

The following day I went to my local patch. I was delighted to find an adult and a juvenile out on the roof. This was my first sighting of a juvenile at this site this year. Earlier this week I set myself up in my hide to take some more photos here. I've not looked at them yet, but if they come out OK I'll be posting some after working through the Northumberland images.

Little Owl - my Site No.02
Little Owl (juvenile + adult) - my Site No.02
Little Owl (juvenile) - my site No.02

Yellowhammer (male) - at my LO Site No.02

Now to get on with those Farne Island images!

Wednesday 11 July 2012

Two Owl Families - on 4th July, 2012 (not quite Independence Day!)

I went out this day to visit my friend Titus White, and his Barn Owl family. On the way I stopped at my latest Little Owl site (No.28). The owls were out, and the juveniles were getting far more independent, although it was evident that the parents were keeping an eye on things.

Little Owl (juvenile) - my Site No.28
Little Owl - my Site No.28
I've recently learned that the owner of the house is going to repair the roof that these owls are nesting in. I'm now concentrating on setting up nesting boxes in the hope that, when they are evicted, they'll settle locally. I'm not too hopeful though as nothing will match the comfort and convenience that they are enjoying at the moment.

At Titus's place I settled into my hide to await the emergence of the owls. The young were still in their natal box 'the bungalow', whilst the adults were next door in 'the mansion'. First to emerge was the male adult.

Barn Owl (male)
The skies had been pretty black when I first entered the hide, and whilst the male was away there was torrential rain. The hide is fairly waterproof in normal circumstances, but with this amount of rain was coming through the top seam and dripping onto me and my camera. I daren't move in case the male was close by and saw me leave.

As the rain eased, a juvenile peeked out of the bungalow doorway. I suspect, from the apparently full feathering, that this was the oldest of the three juveniles.

Barn Owl (juvenile)

A short while later, the female adult emerged from the mansion. She didn't hang around long, but stayed just long enough for me to get one shot - fortunately it turned out to be OK. You can see that she is considerably bigger than the male.

Barn Owl (female)

The female returned with food a while later and departed again immediately. This caused a second juvenile to stick its head out of the bungalow. This one still had fluff on its head, and I suspect that this was the youngest of the three.

Barn Owl (juvenile)

I sat waiting for the adults to return, but the skies were getting even blacker by the minute. Eventually there was an absolute deluge of rain. I sat it out for a while, hoping that the birds would return and go back into the boxes so I could emerge unseen. Eventually, after 22:00, I decided that enough was enough, and quickly dragged everything, soaking wet, into Titus's garage.

As the light was terrible all through, I'm pleasantly surprised that any of the images were useful. One day, I'll be there when an owl emerges in good light, but it's not happened yet!

A few days later, when I went to survey my Little Owl Site No.28 for nest box locations, three of the juveniles were out, and one of the adults was keeping an eye on things.

Little Owl - my Site No.28