High Rise Chicks

12 Jun

What a difference a week makes – same part of the Northumberland Coast as the same time last week and instead of leaden skies and steady drizzle, this morning afforded the blue skies and sunshine  I was hoping for in order to make a quick trip up to Dunstanburgh castle for a “photoshoot”. Nice to see the cliffs teeming with small fluffy newcomers since my last visit.

Lilburn Tower and Embleton Links

Some months previously I’d suggested to BBC Countryfile magazine via their twitter feed that Craster to Dunstanburgh would be a great walk to feature in their 50 rural getaway walks for their 50th anniversary. The idea struck a chord with them and they asked me to write a short piece on the walk. Short being little more than a tweet as it turned out – 150 words for the walk and another 50 words for somewhere to eat, somewhere to stay etc. Luckily as walks go the trip from Craster to Dunstanburgh and back needs precious little direction : “From the harbour, look left – there’s the castle in the distance, walk to it. When you get there walk back.” That at least offered me the chance to say a little bit about the wildlife you could see on the walk – from the seals and porpoises off the rocks to the wheatears and shelduck in the meadows and ponds.

I submitted the text a few weeks ago and they liked it.. enough to confirm it would appear in the magazine, and indeed they liked the photos of the walk that I’d sent them as well. Only problem – “We need a photo of you”. Hmm – I generally stand resolutely behind the camera not in front. Luckily I found a picture of myself with Hannah on my shoulders, that I would be grudgingly accepting of publication in a national magazine, and submitted that.

So far so good, until an e-mail 2 weeks ago… “we’d really like some photos of you in the setting of the walk, maybe with the castle in the background?”. Blast. None of them to hand. Work commitments meant an early evening trip was the only option, and of course two weeks of highly indifferent weather ensued.

Anyway… on to today, and taking advantage of an optimistic window of a few hours sunshine, myself and the family set off for Embleton with a view to taking an abbreviated walk around the castle via the shorter approach from the North, and thankfully the weather duly obliged.

Parked up by the golf course and headed down the track and swallows and house martins were much in evidence. A common whitethroat was fleetingly on view before hopping into the depths of a hawthorn bush where a few weeks ago an immaculate yellowhammer had posed obligingly for my camera. Meadow pipits, skylark and pied wagtails also much in evidence along the fairways.

Dunstanburgh and the Lilburn Tower

From Greymare rocks in front of the castle plenty of kittiwakes and razorbills were on the water with a handful of shag and hordes of gannet passing south. I was pleased to see good numbers of kittiwakes as on my last visit there seemed to be realtively few.

Heading up around the shoulder of the mound that the castle sits atop we could see plenty of black headed gulls bathing on the shallow floods below, and the pair of shelduck who have been there all spring were still in residence but no sign of chicks.

From the castle itself looking out to sea the constant stream of gannets was impressive, and terns were regularly heading past – both common and little passed by while I watched. Wall brown and small tortoiseshell butterflies enjoyed the sunny shelter of the castle walls and a drinker moth caterpillar nearly got squashed under Hannah’s feet as she balanced along a low piece of wall. Fulmars and kittiwakes drifted across the cliff tops and looking down the high rise apartments on the north side of the castle we had great views of kittiwake chicks on the nest and one nest with three shag chicks sat hungrily demanding food from harassed parents (not to mention being harassed by my own juvenile, although in this case asking for a stick of rock rather than sand eels or fish).

Heading back down from the castle a couple of small family groups of eider and chicks were paddling around the shallows of the bay, and looping round through the crags and ponds beneath the mound we had mute swan and canada geese in the rapidly diminishing pools.

The only other wildlife of note was the number of buzzards – driving back 25 miles down the A1 I had a total of 6 including one hovering 20 feet above a hedge like a massively over-sized kestrel, closely followed a hundred yards later by one being mobbed by crows flying low over the road.

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