I got back from a great trip up to County Durham and Northumberland today.
From a wildlife watching point of view, the trip started before we even got there. A few posts ago I listed ten birds I was planning expeditions to find in the year ahead. One of these was the Red Kite. Almost annoyingly, the intrepidness of this particular search has been ruined by spying three flying spectacularly down the side of the A1 around Wetherby. They really are beautiful birds.
The first stop was a place called Blackhall Rocks in County Durham. A beautiful, windswept rocky beach, there were great views out to sea of Common Scoters, and Oystercatchers and Turnstones bumbling round the beach. Most impressively, what appeared to be a blunt black rock out to sea kept doing the rather un-rocklike action of ducking under the waves, and turned out to be a particularly showy Grey Seal bobbing about in the water. The dunes also gave brilliant views of singing Skylarks.
We were staying at Laura’s parents’, which is a bed and breakfast in Castleside. Their bird table is brilliant, and as well as the usual species such as Greenfinch, Goldfinch, Chaffinch, Blackbird, Blue, Great and Coal Tits, Dunnocks and Wrens, also gets regular visits from a Great Spotted Woodpecker. It’s got a rather strange habit, of finding peanuts on the ground, and taking them to a stone on the floor, where it bashes them with its beak until all gone, before finding another one and repeating the process.
As well as these, the fields surrounding the hotel housed a good few Lapwings, and a vast flock of about 200 Fieldfares. During a night-time walk, Tawny and Little Owls could both be heard hooting away in the darkness.
On Friday, we took another trip to the coast. The first stop was Bamburgh, a town with a mightily impressive castle, and a beautiful sandy beach. Pointing the scope out to sea brought up Eiders, Common Scoters and a small flock of Long-tailed Ducks. Out to sea you could clearly see the Farne Islands, and tiny white dots of Kittiwakes along the cliffs. There were courting Stonechats flitting around the dunes, and there was also a large rookery, with the Rooks making a brilliant cacophony of caws, a sound that took me back to a tiny child, and walking past the now sadly gone rookery on the main road to Stocksbridge.
And then on to Low Newton By The Sea. This town is brilliant. The beach was covered in small waders – Redshank, Oystercatchers and Sanderling mainly, with the odd Purple Sandpiper thrown in for good measure and a few Rock Pipits darting around. The was a huge flock of Eiders, and another flock of Common Scoters, close examination of which threw up a distinct white wing patch on a couple that showed there was at least a few Velvet Scoters among them. Greater Black-backed Gulls swooped overhead, and a couple of Kittiwakes flitting over the waves. Low Newton also has a nature reserve with a hide behind the dunes, which housed numerous birds, including Goldeneye, Teal, Mallards, Moorhens, Coots and Greylags.
In all, a great trip to one of the finest parts of the British Isles.