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Crispy!

18 Dec

I’ve been suffering with a torn shoulder muscle for the last week and I’ve been itching to get out and about and try out my new 1.4x teleconverter, and after 4 days of resting my shoulder to stop tearing it any further I thought I’d go out for a slide on the ice and to see what I could see.

I drove up to Cresswell and took a walk along the beach – it was an hour after high tide but still early in the day and for the first time I can recall I was able to walk along the sands without leaving any footprints due to the frozen ground. The waves were pretty serious and I couldn’t see much at see other than large gulls, but on the beach there was the usual array of small waders – knot, turnstone, dunlin and redshank, alongside a handful of oystercatcher and black-headed and common gulls.

Wading!

I decided to make a change from my normal routine and headed to the QEII Country Park at Ashington to see what was stirring. Last time I had a proper walk around the lake I ended up knee deep in boggy muddy grass – the revent cold snap meant this time around I was able to crunch my way around on ice bound together with grass making a fairly good walking surface.

Jackdaw enjoying the sunshine

At the car park the usual collection of mute swans, canada geese and gulls were joined by a bewildering array of “mucky mallards” looking like a fancy dress parade with their radical and diverse plumages. The cormorants were also out in force trying to get some warmth into their wings.

Cormorant

The lake was frozen around the edges and a dusting of hail overnight left a peculiar polka-dot pattern on the ice. Patrolling a little way offshore a couple of goldeneye and pochard joined the throng of assorted geese, swans, mallards and coots.

Heading round the eastern end into the woods had an abundance of tits – coal tits chasing each other through densely knit branches and great and blue tits putting in an appearance with the obligatory winter postcard robin.

Further along the path a striking male bullfinch caught my eye and was swiftly joined by a female. While watching him I noticed movement in another tree – a lovely red squirrel (only about my third northumberland red that wasn’t roadkill).

Red

Stood watching him for a while and then noticed the myriad little helicopters floating to earth all around – the seeds from his wasteful foraging!

On for a complete circuit and the rest of the lake held an assortment of pochards, tufties, goldeneyes, a few gadwall and plenty of gulls with the swans, and a single drake goosander.

One grey heron spooked just as I returned to the car park end of the lake and magpies, crows, rooks and jackdaws were in abundance – very little in the way of woodpigeons or doves which was a bit of a surprise.

Still – a pleasant walk (except for 100 yards or so of arctic wind screaming across the lake reminding me that its winter and maybe I should have some gloves!).

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Yellow brows, red wings and white grouse…

15 Oct

The promise of fine weather and a child-free day lured me up to Lindisfarne this morning for a proper walk, and the weather didn’t disappoint. Clear blue skies on arrival and a surprising warmth for an October day boded well. I’ve really struggled for opportunities since mid summer and today was an opportunity to just get out there and get into the groove.

The Castle from the Village

I wasn’t looking for anything in particular other than a chance to stretch my legs and see what the change of season would bring. I also wanted to check out my new HTC phone and souped up battery to see if it could withstand four or five hours of using GPS, taking photos and uploading photos (all but one of the photos on this post are using the camera on my phone rather than my SLR)

A herd of swans just off the causeway needed checking to see if they were whoopers (I havent seen any yet this year) but they turned out to be mutes, and only a handful of bar-tailed godwits and gulls were close by the road.

Parking up at on the sands just before the village I started out down St Cuthberts Way along the beach, spooking a few curlews and rock pipits as I headed towards a viewpoint to see a large flock of waders on a mud bank.

Plovers and seals

Several times the flock lifted and wheeled around glinting in the sunlight – golden plovers in a flock of around 200. I never did see what spooked them – maybe it was just for the exercise. On the other side of the channel 30 or so grey seals loafed on the sands oblivious to the activity.

Following the coast round until I picked up the path to the town past the school attracting stares from the curious sheep – there didn’t seem to be any else on the island out of bed so they were probably surprised to see me!

Who are ewe?

From the village I headed up the Straight Lonnen where the bushes were teeming with birds harvesting the berries, and the air was teeming with midges trying to harvest my blood. Blackbirds were dominant it wasn’t long before but I saw my first redwings of the year joining the feast.

Redwing

The real gem though was a yellow browed warbler that was keeping one bush distance from me for a while but I eventually managed to get a good view of the little blighter. As I got my camera into position for a clear shot though… another visitor keen to see it joined us – in the form of a sparrowhawk fancying a light bite. It suddenly appeared in the willow tree housing the warbler but it spotted me as well as its snack and thought better of it, meanwhile the YBW made off in the opposite direction after the commotion!

Not much else to report from Straight Lonnen other than a few woodpigeons and a single female reed bunting.

From the top end I headed north into the dunes hoping for a short eared owl after drawing a blank all year (no change today) and followed the path east to Emmanuel Head across the beach which was pleasingly free of signs of human activity – the only footprints were from feathered visitors.

Across to Emmanuel Head

Trekking across the beach toward the pyramid there was a grey heron, a variety of gulls and a pair of eider flying past, and then up to the pyramid.

Pyramid landmark

Heading back down the East side of the island I finally saw another person – it couldn’t last I suppose.

A single gannet, several meadow pipits, rock pipits and a pied wagtail and a couple of seals were on view but the tide was so far out I couldn’t see too much out to sea.

Back along to the castle and the human population taking advantage of the weather were becoming more evident and the birds less so, but it was still an idyllic day.

The Castle (again!)

Just a quick stop off a the Lindisfarne Winery for a bottle of mead for the missus, a bottle of whisky for me, and some fudge for the little ‘un.

I did notice on the wires on the way back up to the car park one or two house martins still hanging around – all are long gone from home for me.

Back on the mainland, buzzards were in abundance making use of the unexpected thermals… all the way from Holy Island down to Morpeth there were regular sights, including a spectacular mid-air grapple between a buzzard and a corvid near Haggerston Castle.

Oh yes… and white grouse? Just a few miles from home an all-white red grouse flew across the A1 just north of Morpeth. I’ve seen plenty of red grouse in my time and I’m fairly sure thats what it was but I’ve never seen an albino before.

It may not have been a truly spectacular day in terms of rarities, but for me in terms of getting back connected with nature it was unsurpassed… beautifully crisp.. splendidy isolated and so far from the distractions of the daily rat-race. To just sit in the dunes and listen to the sound of the waves and the wind fizzing the dried grasses and a faint echo of the seals moaning carried on the breeze was something I’ve needed to do for a long long time. I only had a long lens with me for my main camera and the new phone did a better than expected job, but I don’t think I could have captured the essence of today with the most expensive camera and an array of lenses.

Connection was what today was all about and sometimes its just not possible to capture that.

Onwards and upwards.

File under Country

25 Jul

Well.. got confirmation yesterday that my piece is in this month’s CountryFile’s feature on the nation’s 50 favourite walks. Not from the beeb you understand but from my mum who’s subscription copy dropped onto the doormat at the weekend.

Nice to see it making it into print and they havent had to butcher my text too badly to get it down to their wording limit.

Countryfile

Like I say i don’t have a copy of it yet (doesn’t look like its hit the shops yet) so thanks to my dad for the scan. It appears that the article spreads a couple of pages and the top image is this one :

Lilburn

 

I had a phonecall this morning from them asking for my address so they can send me a copy, so I should see it for myself shortly.

Baking at Bakethin

3 Jul

On the agenda for a while has been a walk around Bakethin Reservoir – the northern spur of Kielder reservoir, and home to the breeding osprey pair.

A day of wall-to-wall sunshine was promised by the met-office (and duly delivered for once) so we headed off for a circular walk to take in some of the woodland and forestry trails before heading back along the lake shore (route is here)

In the baking sunshine grasshoppers were stridulating away like crazy and ringlets danced along the roadside verges amongst the thistles and orchids. Within a few minutes of setting off we’d come across spotted heath orchids in varying shades.

Heath spotted orchid

While we were checking out the orchids something caught my eye scampering across the road and I spotted a large common lizard sprint across and into the undergrowth a few feet away. I was hoping that we’d see a few more lizards and possibly snakes basking in the sunshine but it wasn’t to be.

Cutting away from the road and uphill through woods we had a spotted flycatcher helpfully reducing the fly population although I think he could have done with some assistance as we were being eaten alive!

In one sunny patch in the woods we came a across a toadstool that looked like it had been sprayed with gold paint like a Christmas decoration – so vivid and shiny it stood out from the grass :

Golden toadstool - a Tawny Grisette?

Emerging from the woods onto a forestry track along a clearing we had dozens more ringlets but a complete absence of other butterflies until we eventually found a small heath to keep them company. One unmissable sight was a very large dragonfly that buzzed us as we first took to the track and which I relocated perched on the bracken half a mile further on. He was happy to sit and bask in the sun to allow some photos – a handsome male golden-ringed dragonfly.

Golden-ringed Dragonfly

Further along the track and past a 4,000 year old burial cairn on the hillside we descended down to a tarmac road from a disused quarry, and here we had common spotted orchids by the roadside.

Common spotted orchid

At this point we also had a few common blues to add some variety to the butterflies and the herb eyebright nestled in the long grasses – traditionally a herb used to create treatnents for all manner of eye problems like conjuctivitis.

Eyebright

 

Reaching the end of the track we then doubled back along a track by the lakeside (ignoring the disused railway track which was doubling as a speedway track for cyclists). This track afforded us some welcome dappled shade as it passed through birch and willow woods and had some very impressive drifts of melancholy thistles – not normally the most picturesque plants but looking very smart at the moment.

Melancholy Thistle

Back at the car park and time for refreshments – we’d not managed to see red squirrel, crossbills or osprey (all of which were distinct possibles if not probables!) but the orchids, lizard, dragonflies and the views were worth it. Oddly enough for such a baking hot day on a weekend at the start of July, we managed to do two thirds of the walk before we saw another person at all – very tranquil!

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.

Fox in the grass and Little terns in the drizzle

5 Jun

With my brother and his family visiting for the weekend, one thing was certain – rain. Their previous trip to Northumberland last year for a week at Cresswell marked the end of a glorious spring and the start of a rainy summer which saw incessant drizzle for their entire stay. So.. “hot” on the heels of two days of mid-twenties temperature and raging sun, the temperature dropped to 13 on Saturday and 9 degrees and drizzle today.

An overcast walk along the cliffs from Old Hartley to St Mary’s Island gave the kids (3yr old twins and my own 4 year old) chance to romp up and down the path and throw stones in the sea, but little of note by the way of birds or other wildlife. No butterflies prepared to lighten up the gloom and just a few gulls, fulmars (or “Wilmas” as Hannah likes to call them) drifted past with the rooks and jackdaws.

At the wetland reserve a very vocal sedge warbler put in an appearance along with a couple of reed buntings, meanwhile a very handsome fox peered warily at us from deep grass at the top end of the reserve.

At the island itself the usual cast of gulls and cormorants were joined by a steady stream of gannets and a lone kittiwake , while turnstone and ringed plover foraged on the rocks.

A brief sortie to Cresswell showed the four adult avocets and I’m sure I caught sight of one avocet chick nearby but failed to relocate it after it disappeared from view, so perhaps the report of the demise of all the chicks was premature. Shelducks seem to be everywhere right now and the place was teeming with their chicks, and one or two dunlin were also dotted around on the shore. Shovellers, tufties and mallards also shared the lake alongside greylag and canada geese.

Past Cresswell and on to Duridge Pools to see if the on-off-on again-off again spoonbill show was in town but sadly not. A pair of melanistic pheasants were pretty much the only sight apart from the sand martins and coots.

Today we had a walk from Low Newton around the headland to the football hole, and almost immediately we had little tern fishing close in to shore – a first for me this year. The light cloud cover soon turned more ominous and we were treated to a mix of drizzle and steady rain for most of the walk. Again unsurprisingly butterflies were non-existent but a single cinnabar moth was resting in the dunes and several garden tiger moth caterpillars intrigued the kids. Northern marsh orchids peeked out of the grass in a few places and skylark and meadow pipit were singing above the meadows while pied wagtail zoomed above the shore. Eider, heron and oystercatchers shared the rocky scars with cormorants, and on the beach at the football hole sanderlings and turnstones were investigating the seaweed at the high water mark.

Birds seen : starling, house sparrow, jackdaw, rook, fulmar, common gull, black headed gull, greater black-backed gull, fulmar, little tern, arctic tern, oystercatcher, turnstone, ringed plover, sanderling, dunlin, avocet, shelduck, shoveller, mallard, tufted duck, gadwall, greylag goose, canada goose, pheasant, swallow, house martin, cormorant, shag, heron, sedge warbler, reed bunting, sylark, meadow pipit

Butterflies/Moths/Caterpillars : cinnabar moth, garden tiger moth caterpillar

Mammals : fox

Osprey, Chicks and the Blues

30 May

Had a brief visit to Teesside and North Yorkshire this weekend to catch up with family and pay a few flying visits to a few sites I don’t get to often.

First was a 15 minute stop off at RSPB Saltholme to try and see yellow wagtails and lo and behold 10 minutes yeilded four individuals, albeit three of them flying at 100mph in the vicious wind!

Next was a 90 min whizz around Coatham Marsh – my first visit for ore more.¬† That yielded my first blue butterfly of the year – a very bright common blue. Again the wind didn’t help in trying to get a photo on the grasses that were constantly buffeted around. A little further round the marsh a second blue was no less elusive.

Common Blue

Another first for me this year were small heaths flitting around the pathways.

Lots of birds with chicks – Canada and Greylag Geese, Mute Swans, Coot, Moorhen, Little Grebe and Reed Bunting all with young families in tow, the dabchicks particularly high in the cute factor but sadly far to wary to allow any kind of approach.

Mute Swans

I was half hoping that some of the ruddy duck that used to breed here may have escaped the cull, but sadly no sign of them – I fear I wont see them around again for a while.

An evening trip to Lockwood Beck for crossbills and osprey drew a blank on the former but did get a brief glimpse of an osprey while engrossed in trying to watch a pair of willow warblers that were dancing around us in the trees only a few feet away. Only a poor quality record shot to show for it :

Osprey

Osprey

This morning I had an early morning trek up to Danby Beacon and despite the drizzle managed to see a pair of golden plover with two enchanting chicks – looking like golden cotton-wool balls on stilts! There was also an abundance of Jackdaws – more than I’ve ever seen there before – perhaps they were all just gathered together in the rain.

Oh and I should also mention the rogue pea-hen that seems to have taken up residence in my parents’ garden and is now bullying poor Tiggsy the cat !

Pea-hen : an unusual garden visitor

Birds seen : Mallard, Shoveller, Coot, Moorhen, Little grebe, Mute Swan, Greylag Goose, Canada Goose, Reed Bunting, Swift, Swallow, House Martin, Sand Martin, Black Headed Gull, Grey Heron, Collared Dove, Osprey, Willow Warbler, Cormorant, Yellow Wagtail, Common Tern, Wheatear, Golden Plover, Curlew, Jackdaw, Rook, House Sparrow, Greenfinch, Goldfinch

Butterflies seen : Common blue, small heath, large white, small tortoisheshell