23rd June.In my view there is never a time of year that is poor for bird watching
and anyone would be foolish to write off July.Of course there is also the wider nature interest to keep an eye open
for and this evening proved my point.
We began in South Bay at St Mary’s Island
which provided a small flock of about fifty Golden Plover in various stages of plumage change, a handful of Knot only slowly changing from summer
plumage, Dunlin and Turnstone still in full summer plumage,
along with Oystercatcher, Redshank,
Curlew and Lapwing.A broken up raft of Common Scoter drifted southwards on the sea and Eider Ducks in changing plumage were
there in small numbers.Gannets, auks and gulls were around in numbers, but we
saw no sign of skuas or shearwaters.
Our eye was drawn to the Grey Seals laid out on the Island
and we decided to have a walk across the causeway for a closer look.Not to close as the many signs warn the
public.Sam informed me that someone had
allowed or been unable to prevent their dog chasing after the seals
recently.No shock there then, at least
in the case of the couldn’t give a damn ‘my
Rover comes first’ minority of dog owners.We had good sightings of four Grey
Seals with more in the water just off the island and perhaps one or two
more hidden behind the rocks.
As Sam and I overlooked the sea I got my eye on the dorsal
fins of cetaceans which at this point were quite close into shore.We reckon on a minimum of five or six which
included Harbour Porpoise (we think)
and certainly White-beaked Dolphins
where were breaching fully out of the water at times.They were swimming in circles and seemed to
have perhaps found a shoal of fish and a good feeding area, which was further
underlined when the Gannets began to
dive and feed in the same area.We
watched these cetaceans at some length as they gradually moved further out to
sea.A young lad joined us to help out
with identification and it was good to see him enjoying the use of the scope,
although sadly he never did get as good a sighting as we had initially when the
dolphins were breaching.More sightings
were made on our way to Seaton Sluice and this occasion I’m positive that the
sighting was of Harbour Porpoise,
further out to sea than our initial sighting had been.Our walk to Seaton Sluice (Common Whitethroats and Reed Buntings seen on the way) proved
to take us much longer than planned as we watched the cetaceans and got into
conversation with a number of interesting and interested people along the
way.This all made for a good
evening.I think the young lad we
initially spoke with was only just getting into bird watching, so we were able
to offer some advice about places to visit.We enjoyed our fish and chips before heading off to Holywell.
We walked to Holywell Pond again in the main taking the open
paths across the farmland where Yellowhammers,
Linnets and Whitethroat were
found.The flash towards the obelisk
looked perfect for waders, but was in fact completely bird-less when we
passed.Our watching however attracted a
local and his son.Apparently he had
been involved in birding when younger and is keen to get started again.Perhaps the flash was not good encouragement
this evening although I think the guy was fully aware of that can be attracted to
The pond was once again quiet with only Lapwing and gulls attracted to the muddy area.A flock of Redshank once again looked as though they were going to land but
again decided to move on.Growing
numbers of Lapwing and Curlew were feeding in the fields to
the south.After watching the Grey Herons we too decided to move on
and make for home.
Whilst standing quietly in Holywell Village
we heard the unmistakeable call of a Greenshank
that flew over our heads, although we were unable to locate it in flight.A good ending, to a rewarding evening.
20th June.When Lee called to ask about a visit to Cresswell and Druridge Pools
this evening I didn’t take much persuasion.A call to Sam and all was arranged.By the time 6:30pm came around we were on our way and wondering if it
was going to rain.The cloud dispersed
leaving a fine warm and sunny summer evening in front of us.Lee had been up to Druridge Pools a few days
previous and had found it more than interesting, but we decided to stop at
Creswell pond on the way, and as it happens that was just as well.
Spoonbill. As with all the images here, strictly record images.
We passed the usual Tree
Sparrows along the path to the pond and I got my eye on two Spoonbills before entering the
hide.We watched the Spoonbills at distance before they flew
down close to the mud area right of the hide giving great sightings in the
bright clear sunlight.It wasn’t just Spoonbills that caught the eye, as
there were four Little Egrets
present on or near the mud bank and of course the Avocets with three young.The youngsters now a good size, but the parent birds were still being
protective of their territory.Ringed Plovers were on the mud bank and
at least one Little Ringed Plover
was amongst them with young.Common Snipe showed themselves well on
occasions as did the Dunlin which
flew in to join them and there were also at least two Common Sandpipers present, but there was no sign of the Green
Sandpipers which had been reported.Both
Reed Warblers and Sedge Warbler were showing well in the
reeds close to the hide and on one occasion whilst I watched the Spoonbills a Yellow Wagtail flew behind them into the reeds.This was the only Yellow Wagtail that I saw this evening, amongst the many Pied Wagtails.It felt rather like ‘continental birding’ in
the sunshine and warmth and Sam commented that it was like being back on the Little
Hortobagy.Well, perhaps not quite, but
I knew what he meant.
A bloke entered the hide and I asked if he was able to
identify the Little Ringed Plovers.I
heard him ask ‘how’s Brian’ and after a few seconds I realised that I was
sitting next to Sedgedunum Birder.Sorry
I didn’t recognise you immediately John.I think it must be because you look younger every time I see you.
:-)It must be all of the early morning
air having such a good effect.
A Ruff was found
on the west side of the pond and gave a decent scope sighting whilst Shelduck was also on the mud bank.Sam pointed out two female Goldeneye at the north end of the pond
which weren’t easy to distinguish in the bright sunlight.After spending some good quality time in the
hide we headed for the north end of the pond hoping to pick up more Yellow
Wagtails.We found only numbers of PiedWagtail.Arctic Tern was
also seen here and Sam took the opportunity of getting a better image of the Spoonbills and an image of numbers of Dunlin north of the causeway.The Dunlin
weren’t disturbed at all until the cattle decided to walk down towards us and
see what was going on.
So off we went to Druridge Pools.Before walking down to the hides we took a
look over the sea.By now the warmth of
the day was fading a little and mist was gathering in patches on the land
causing a very nice atmosphere about the place.As we set off to walk through the dunes, Lee pointed out a Barn Owl flying north through the dunes
towards us.Unfortunately it was mobbed by
crows and flew off in the direction of the pools.A juvenile Stonechat was found in the dunes (same area where breeding took
place in 2013) along with Meadow Pipit.
The sea was calm but pretty unrewarding in terms of
sightings, although to be fair we didn’t give much time to a sea watch as by
now we were losing the light.We did
pick up the rafts of Common Scoter,
the odd Gannet, Guillemot and many
terns and gulls.We spoke to someone
later who had been sea watching and he confirmed all had been quiet.Most of the excitement was at Cresswell Pond
tonight, but the pools did throw up another lone Little Egret and a party of seven Common Sandpipers!A pair of
Great Crested Grebes has left it
very late to begin building a floating nest structure and mating.
Sun goes down at Druridge
Sam had gone of in search of the Barn Owl and when we rejoined him he had found it and it was
perched on one of the buildings in the dunes for a short time before flying off
northwards.Soon afterwards a Barn Owl approached us from the south
and flew along the tree line so we are confident that we saw a pair hunting
As we drove home we found a Kestrel.It had been one of
those special summer evenings in the Druridge
Bay area and we left well
pleased with our tally of fifty-six species picked out in such a short space of
time.We had watched from Druridge Pools
as a fiery sun went downThanks to Lee
for the thought about going up there and the driving.I’m certain this evening will appear in my
year end highlights.
17th June.Sam and I arrived at Seaton Sluice to be told that there was little
passing by on or over the sea, but we were put onto four Whimbrel on the rocks below.It was worth going down to Seaton Sluice for these birds alone.They showed nicely until the incoming tide
washed them off the rocks. The unmistakeable calls filled the air as the birds
flew off.We decided to hang around for
a little longer during which we saw large numbers of Gannets, SandwichTerns,
an odd Arctic Tern, Puffin, Razorbill, Guillemot,
Eider, Kittiwakes and Fulmars.It was quite hazy out at sea, so we had no
definite identification of the flock of waders we saw at great distance.We decided that it seemed unlikely that we
were going to see much else, so we had our tea and walked up to Holywell.
Burnet Moths doing what Burnet Moths do.
Soldier Beetles doing what Soldier Beetles do.
At the beginning of the walk we found two sandpipers flying
up the burn from Seaton Sluice.No
definite identification was made as the sun was in our eyes, but we think they
may well have been Green Sandpipers.Small
Tortoiseshell and MeadowBrown Butterflies were in flight.
Cinnabar Moth caterpillar (I think) with empty skin underneath
We didn’t walk through much of the dene, preferring to
follow the tracks across the farmland on such a wonderful evening.It was a typical Holywell summer evening.The
only birds noted were I seem to remember Common
Whitethroat, Skylark, Goldfinch,
Linnet and numbers of singing Yellowhammers.
Durham Brown Argus
The pond was quiet and on this occasion no rarity flew
over.On such a nice evening though, we
weren’t going to rush away so we watched the Grey Herons and other birds on the water which included Little Grebes, Mallard, Tufted Duck and
Pochard.Before we reached the pond we had found Curlew and Lapwings in the field to the south.There was no way of knowing in the bright sunlit area if some of these
birds were Whimbrel. Eventually a few Lapwings flew onto the narrow mud strip at the pond and a small
flock of Redshank looked as though
they were about to drop in before flying off.Swifts, Sand Martins and Swallows fed over the water.
Great early morning light showing Small Tortoiseshells at their best.
So a fairly quiet evening, but with Whimbrel new for the year list I’m not complaining and it was a
great evening to be out.
More Small Tortoiseshells. Often best just to forget composition and sharpness and just think light and colour.
I’ve added a few photos from our trip to Bishop
Middleham Old Quarry and from my garden watch this morning when there seemed to
be up to ten Small TortoiseshellButterflies on the Buddleia which has
grown magnificently this year.
12th June.A bird, an insect and a plant where our three main targets on the RSPB
Local Group trip to Bishop Middleham.Fortunately for the eighteen keen participants the sun was shining.Sam and I were leading the trip.
We found two Green
Sandpipers on the mud before they took to flight, calling. Then we walked
along the path towards Castle
Lake.Our target bird was first heard and then seen
very well.This was of course the Corn Bunting, a bird that one or two in
the group had not seen before which clearly underlines the decline of this
species.Further along the way very nice
sightings were had of Little Egret,
Sedge Warbler and a pair of Grey
Wagtails.The Lake itself had thrown
up nothing unusual, but we had found the likes of Little Grebe, Great Crested Grebe, Grey Heron, Greylag Geese, Canada Geese, Mallard, Oystercatcher and Lapwing.
Butterflies and odonata were seen along the way and Blackcaps were heard singing.
It had been a tiring walk in the sun and once we had
completed the circle most participants retreated to the pub.Our next call was to be the old magnesian
limestone quarry, one of my favourite locations in Durham.A few weeks ago I had walked in the quarry and found little.Today was to be different.The Dark
RedHelleborines were soon
attracting attention (another target for the day) and I also got my eye on CommonTwayblade, but the latter was
well past its best.Fragrant Orchids were around in some number.I have
to say there was nothing like the amount of botanical interest that I have
found in the quarry during July in past visits, but we did have some nice Common Centaury, Milkwort and Thyme and there was certainly enough to
keep folk interested and cameras busy for the two plus hours we spent here.Sam watched a Peregrine Falcon dive behind the cliff of the quarry as birds
Our third target was of course the Durham Argus Butterfly.I
was confident of finding these on such a good day, although this confidence
soon began to dwindle away after a search brought nothing.We found plenty of Common Blues and then eventually did find the Durham Argus and in some numbers.
Dark Red Helleborine
So it proved to be a very good day.Eighteen participants felt a good number to
lead and whilst this is far down on the numbers that used to attend these
trips, all I can say is that just so long as everyone is along for the correct
reasons, i.e. and interest in nature, then leading the trips can be very
The day showed that we can still manage a good numbers
of bird species finds whilst focusing on the wider habitat and other
wildlife.The bird list came to fifty
plus and butterflies seen were Large
White, Small White, Green Veined White, Small Skipper, Small Tortoiseshell,
Peacock, Red Admiral, Common Blue, Durham Argus, Speckled Wood, Ringlet, Meadow
Brown and Small Heath.
8th June.As the cloud gathered at tea-time I had another last look for the lost
over-trousers before heading to Slaley
Corbridge.I can announce they have been
found in a zipped side pocket inside my travel bag.I don’t know for the life of me who put them
there!Anyway thankfully the find has
saved me a few quid.In the event they
weren’t used last night, but as I walked along the bank of the Tyne at Corbridge it certainly looked as though they were
going to be required as thunderous cloud moved over us.Marie, Sam and I had met up with Tony in the
car-park for an evening walk prior to moving onto Slaley Forest
for a search for Nightjars.This area of
river bank is one of the best areas I know in Northumberland for Yellowhammers.They were about in numbers again this
evening.One particularly stunning bird
called from the top of a bush as it was joined by a youngster and a
warbler.We’d previously listened to Common Whitethroat, Willow Warbler and Chiffchaff calls.Grey and Pied Wagtails were on or near the pebbled areas.Rain fell in surrounding areas as the dark
clouds passed over us.By now they were
moving south.There was a chill already
in the air whilst we had our tea on the old stones from the old Roman bridge.
River Tyne at Corbridge
We were at Slaley
Forest in plenty of time
and took our usual route.As Tony had
never heard or seen Nightjars before we were hoping for a successful
evening.Despite the coolness of the
evening there were plenty of midgies and mossies to greet us.So it was on with the insect repellent.In my case, lots of it.I’m pleased to say that it appears to have
done the trick and for the second year running I avoided reaction to insect
bites on a visit to Slaley
Forest.We picked up plenty of roding Woodcock, but as darkness began to set
in there was no sound from Nightjars.It
was a moon-lit night with now completely clear skies so darkness as such never
really arrived.The sky through the tree-line
looked quite amazing at times and the silence was wonderful.Unfortunately as far as Nightjars were
concerned it wasn’t silence that we were after.We began our slow return walk picking up the sounds of Woodcock before they flew over us.It was Sam who heard the distant Nightjar and I thought I picked up a
brief distant churring from the opposite direction, but that may have been
wishful thinking on my part.A Tawny Owl called and one was seen on
the way home.
I was beginning to think we were going to be out of
luck and after last years really successful visit that would have been a shame,
especially for Tony who began to ask if it was possible that we might actually
see a Nightjar.I assured him that it was possible.It wasn’t long afterwards that we were
listening to the mechanical churring sounds of a nearby Nightjar and then it or another Nightjar flew in front and very close to us giving Tony and the
rest of us a really good sighting.Tony
saw it fly into a nearby young conifer and I’m positive I saw movement from the
tree in the stillness of the evening.There was nothing like the chorus of Nightjars that we had heard last
year, but single birds did continue to churr, call and wing-clap and showed
well again on at least two occasions.The night was a success, I have my trousers and I reckon Yellowhammers
are as excitingly coloured as many exotic birds!It was a chilly night by now with small
patches of mist across the road in places.I was home by 12:30am and dreaming soon afterwards.
6th June.After being unable to find my over-trousers (are they still in Hungary?)
Sam and I left for St Mary’s Island with the
intention of walking via Seaton Sluice to Holywell Pond. With heavy showers forecast I just had to
accept that I’d get wet legs.In the
event it was a wonderful day and at times we were under a hot sun.
Initially our most interesting finds were the numbers of Burnet Moths and a couple of Ringlet Butterflies amongst many Meadow Brown Butterflies.A few Curlew
were in the fields behind the now very overgrown wetland area.Skylarks
and Meadow Pipits were heard and Swifts, Sand Martins, Swallows and House Martins were about in
numbers.Sandwich Tern numbers were high, although we did have sighting of
at least one Arctic Tern and later
further in land Common Terns.A Puffin
flew very close to shore at St Mary’s Island
where Common Seals were laid out on the rocks with notices up for public
attention asking that everyone keep their distance.An American tourist admired the bathing Starlings.
I’m pleased to say that we found two families of Stonechats, Common Whitethroat and a
very visible and singing Grasshopper
Warbler (which we watched at length) holding territory.This I thought would be our bird of the day,
but I was to be proved to be wrong, as you will see later.We also heard four Reed Buntings singing in a relatively small area.There was little on a flat and calm sea
although we had Fulmar fly by the cliff
and several Kittiwakes and Eider Ducks.Fish and chips were taken in the sun at
Seaton Sluice and I really enjoyed the cold can of coke.The forecast had been for a very heavy shower
at this time so wrong again.
A good area for wildlife. I'd never realised the history behind this house. It was the officers quarters for the defence and gun emplacement during World War One and radar was tested here during World War Two. The house was designed so as to look like a Georgian Villa. Changed a bit now of course with at least one tower gone and a additions made. The large 'garden' area is left for wildlife. We got speaking to a local gent who told us about the history of the nearby tunnels etc.
A calm sea and perfect lighting conditions.
The dene provided us with several Song Thrushes, a calling Tawny
Owl, Blackcap, Willow Warbler
and Chiffchaff et al.It’s a while since I’ve been down to the area
and I was surprised to find just how overgrown everything had become.Everything seems to be growing fast, except
me!We talked to a guy in Holywell Dene
who works on the tour boats at Mull and to
prove what a small world it is he confirmed that he knew Geltsdale Warrior
We made for the pond area listening to Yellowhammers along
the way.On arrival we found the pond fairly
quiet, but we remained in the public hide which I find far more productive than
the members hide these days (just as well as I’d forgotten the key to the
latter).The odd Oystercatcher flew in and Grey
Herons gave nice sightings.Birds on
the water included Little Grebe,
Pochard, Tufted Duck and Teal.We were just commenting on how quiet it was
when at 6.50pm I got my eye on a bird flying south towards the woodland on the
opposite side of the pond.It threw me
for a few seconds.I caught some white
on it and had to check that I was not getting size and distance wrong.Sam took a look at it and when I noticed the
flight I called pratincole!The bird flew south over the pond and we
dashed out to try for a better sighting.We caught it flying directly over our heads as it diverted south westwards.It gave an extremely good if fairly short
sighting and I have to say we were convinced by some features that it was a
Collared Pratincole.On reporting this
bird we met with some scepticism considering that there is a Black-winged
Pratincole in the the North East.We
didn’t much care as which ever species it was a great co-find by Sam and
I.Holywell evenings are rarely boring!We did spend a bit of time hoping that the
bird might drop into the pond area, but it had disappeared.We went home as the thunder storm approached
from the north, well satisfied after the pratincole had provided the icing on
the cake of what had been a very good day.I still haven’t found my over-trousers.
od Ichneumon wasp species
Well today I understand from friends and Birdguide staff
that the pratincole was relocated near the pond and its identification
confirmed as Black-winged Pratincole.That’s a lifer for both Sam and I and as for
the self found list, as the song says ‘You
can’t take that away from us’.I’ve
seen dozens of Collared Pratincoles in Europe.Not an easy pair of birds to tell apart and
we feel in good company in getting it initially wrong and that takes nothing
away from such a great self found species.I’m only pleased we managed to identify it as a pratincole at long
distance.This species does have a very
distinctive flight pattern.I’m pleased
to hear Cain caught up with it this morning.It’s his patch after all.In my
humble opinion no twitching of birds can beat just going out and finding your
own birds in a relaxed manner.There was
no one else about when we found the pratincole yesterday evening.Great stuff.
Just as an aside it is interesting to note that Sam having
checked out pratincole sightings at Holywell, found that the previous sighting
of Collared Pratincole was 6th July 1966!The Black-winged Pratincole is of course a
first for Holywell Pond.
On reflection, I wish my interest in birds and nature had begun at a young age. It didn't, but one advantage of that is I still have a great enthusiasim and much to learn. As I have become increasingly interested in matters ornithological my interst has tended to widen to other natural history interests. I like to keep an eye on the local patch in Killingworth. It offers a good variation of habitat (which often surprises many) within walking distance of the front door, where recent ticks have included Black Necked Grebe, Tundra Bean Geese, Red Kite, S E Owl, Firecrest and an overhead Marsh Harrier. I get as big a kick out of that as any other birding I do. Travel is an added bonus.
''Use the talents you possess - for the woods would be a very silent place if no birds sang except for the best.”-- Henry Van Dyke